A deal to keep Moore's law alive
THE arrival of a new generation of semiconductors has come a little closer.
On July 9th ASML, a Dutch company that dominates the market for the lithographic equipment that etches circuits onto silicon, struck a deal with Intel, the world's largest chipmaker.
Intel has agreed to pay about 2.5 billion for 15% of ASML.
It will provide 829m for ASML's research-and-development efforts and will buy the resulting tools, due in a few years.
ASML has also been talking to its two other biggest customers, Samsung and Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Corporation. It is willing to sell 25% of itself in all.
Of Intel's R&D money, 553m will go on technology to make chips on silicon wafers 450mm in diameter.
Twice as many chips could be cut from these as from today's biggest, which are 300mm across.
The rest of the cash is for extreme ultraviolet technology, which the industry hopes will push the width of circuits below today's frontier of 20 nanometres.
This will enable more circuitry to be packed onto smaller chips—and allow the life of Moore's law, which says that the number of transistors on a chip doubles every 18 months or so, to be extended yet again.
With customers taking equity, putting up research money and making advance orders, ASML will be surer of having a market for products that take a lot of time and money to create.
It reckons that EUV will cost it and its suppliers 3.4 billion.
Moving to 450mm will require new machines and the reconfiguration of factories.
A report in 2005 by VLSI, a research firm, estimated that the shift from 200mm to 300mm wafers a decade ago cost the industry $11.6 billion.
Until Intel promised to pay, ASML had been reluctant to press on with 450mm technology.
The development of EUV, in contrast, was likely anyway.
EUV has been very important, says Richard Windsor of Nomura, an investment bank. Most semiconductor companies consider it critical to taking them beyond 20 nanometres.
Deals like this week's should help to get the market going—and cement ASML's lead in the lithographic race.
Other semiconductor stocks also moved up.
This makes dye-based cells more flexible than silicon ones.
Our customers have very tight budgets.
Frank Browne shook more sauce over his chips.
It wasn't difficult then to cross the frontier.