Intel, Samsung Plan for 450-mm Wafer Transition

The two chip makers, along with Taiwan Semiconductor, are making plans to transition to larger wafer sizes in 2012.

Intel and Samsung, two of the world's largest producers of semiconductors, are collaborating on new standards that will produce the world's first 450-millimeter wafers starting in 2012.

The two companies, along with Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC), made the announcement on May 5. The switch to the larger wafers, according to a joint statement, will help the entire semiconductor industry move toward a new standard for manufacturing integrated circuits.

Currently, most of the world's top semiconductor companies produce processors on industry-standard 300-mm wafers. The switch to the lager 450-mm wafers will allow companies such as Intel and Samsung to double the amount of processors they can put on a single wafer.

This should help cut the cost of chip production, while reducing the amount of energy, water and other resources used in creating processors. For example, Intel was able to reduce the cost of its chip production when it switch from 200-mm to 300-mm wafers several years ago. The company achieved further savings when it reduced the individual processors from 65-nanometers to 45-nm.

The design and investment that goes into creating fabs or manufacturing facilities is an enormous expense in the industry. For example, Intel spent $3 billion to open its latest fab in Arizona in 2007 - and creating jointly developed standards for the 450-mm transition should help reduce costs in the research and a development of this new technology.

The three companies are working with International Sematech [ISMI], a nonprofit industry organization that conducts research into semiconductor manufacturing. The group is assisting with 450-mm wafer supply, standards and equipment testing.

The semiconductor industry switches wafer products about once every 10 years. The industry first starting using 200-mm wafers in 1991 and then switched to 300-mm wafers in 2001. The goal of changing to 450-mm wafers in 2012 adheres to those guidelines.