Copper chips came a step closer to production last week, as semiconductor specialist Novellus unveiled Damascus Complete Copper, a range of new products and technologies for the production of copper processors.
Currently, chips are manufactured using aluminium as the conductive connector between the tiny components etched onto the silicon. Copper is better suited to this task as it is a far better conductor, but until recently efforts to use the metal resulted in it causing damage to the silicon.
However, last year IBM claimed that it had developed copper techniques and earlier this year the company announced it was working on a copper version of its PowerPC processor, expected to be available in early 1999.
Chips produced using copper can be faster, smaller, less power hungry and cheaper than their aluminium counterparts.
Not everybody is likely to jump on the copper bandwagon though. Technology such as Damascus costs millions of pounds for chip makers to buy and implement.
Many manufacturers will want to wait for alternative offerings from rival companies such as Applied Materials, which claims it will have its own complete copper production system by the end of this year. The hope is that alternative offerings may match current production systems more closely, allowing for cheaper implementation.
The launch of this system scuppers a prediction made last year by Intel CEO Andy Grove, who said copper chips would not be in production for at least another four years.
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