Intel opens plant, starts production of 45nm Penryn chip

New $3 billion Arizona facility will produce 25,000-plus silicon wafers a month

Intel Corp. Thursday opened its new $3 billion manufacturing facility in Chandler, Ariz., kicking off mass production of its new 45-nanometer microprocessors.

The move, according to analysts, gives Intel another leg up in its ongoing battle against rival Advanced Micro Devices Inc. AMD recently started shipping its quad-core Barcelona processor, which is built using a 65nm manufacturing process. AMD began shipping its first processor based on 65nm process technology, the Athlon 64 X2 dual-core desktop chip, in December 2006.

Intel's new Penryn 45nm processors, slated to start shipping next month, will run desktop, server and mobile computers.

"AMD, not too long ago, released 65nm chips so this means they're going to have a tough row to hoe," said Dean Freeman, an analyst at Gartner Inc. "Intel will have a faster processor and the potential for higher performance, so AMD will have to find ways to compete against that."

Intel is looking to make a significant shift from the 65nm to 45nm processors, about a year after it launched a pilot effort in Oregon to produce the new chips.

The opening of the new Arizona facility, called Fab 32, is expected to boost production of 45nm wafers from 5,000 a month in the pilot program to 25,000 to 30,000 wafers a month, according to Freeman.

The 45nm manufacturing process is generally seen as the next big step in the semiconductor industry because it goes a long way toward addressing power leakage problems that plague larger technologies.

A microprocessor built with 45nm process technology is smaller than its 65nm predecessor. Parts of the chip, like wires and transistors, get smaller, as well allowing it to work more efficiently because of the increased density. They're also cheaper to produce because manufacturers can pack more chips onto a silicon wafer.

"The march downward in nanometer manufacturing is great news," said Charles King, an analyst at Pund-IT Inc. in Hayward, Calif. "The new processors that will be produced [in the new facility] leverage the company's Hafnium-based high-K materials, which are designed to significantly reduce energy leakage. It's not a be-all, end-all solution for some of the processor industry's most fundamental challenges, but it should help in the creation of dependable next-generation processors and systems.

"This will help drive the trend toward more powerful desktop and mobile computing solutions," he added.

Freeman noted that IT managers should expect to see 45nm technology in PCs in six months to a year, though some early adopters may already be using it in server farms.

"For the IT manager, he can expect that data retrieval will be quicker, processing instruction sets will be faster and more information will transfer faster," he added. "And the chip will run as cool as a 65nm so you get more performance using less power."

One nanometer is equal to one-billionth of a meter.

Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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