IBM researchers will reveal details of a breakthrough in chip-making lithography later today that will lead to the production ultra-small microprocessors.
Current chip-making processes were considered unable to etch features on a microprocessor measuring fewer than 32 nanometres.
But using a high-index immersion variant of deep-ultraviolet optical lithography, the IBM researchers succeeded in creating structures on a chip measuring 29.9 nanometres.
"Our goal is to push optical lithography as far as we can so that the industry does not have to move to any expensive alternatives until absolutely necessary," said Dr Robert D Allen, manager of lithography materials at IBM's Almaden Research Centre.
"This result is the strongest evidence to date that the industry may have at least seven years of breathing room before any radical changes in chip-making techniques are needed."
Most of today's processors use 90-nanometre technology. Intel started shipping the first 65-nanometre chips late last year, and expects such components to become the norm by the third quarter of 2006.
IBM's breakthrough will be unveiled at the SPIE Microlithography 2006 conference in San José later today.
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