Comms chips

Intel: We're No. 72!

8:00 AM -- I'm taking today off, so I'll miss the Intel Corp. (Nasdaq: INTC) shindig in San Francisco. They're gathering media types at the Ritz Carlton to unveil new chips built with hafnium.

Yes, they're geeking out over a chemical element. The semiconductor world is prone to this. Because so much about chip building is standardized, major changes in the recipe don't happen often. The substitution of hafnium oxide for silicon oxide is a radical shift worth partying for. (The Economist has a good explanation.)

In the late 90s, copper had its day. As in, using copper to line the on-chip channels through which electrons would travel. Novellus Systems Inc., which makes chip-building equipment for factories such as Intel's, had a grand time with this. Novellus was an industry second-fiddle -- Applied Materials Inc. (Nasdaq: AMAT) is the kingpin of chip equipment -- but it made a massive splash around copper, even making its corporate colors an elegant green and copper.

At Semicon West (the Supercomm of chip gear, when Supercomm meant something), Novellus wouldn't have a booth. They'd rent out a small building nearby and set up a Disneyland-style attraction -- anyone remember the old Inner Space ride? It was surprisingly good stuff, coming from an equipment industry about as hip as the Hallmark Channel.

Now it's hafnium's turn and Intel's party. You can celebrate hafnium (chemical element No. 72) by going to this exciting page. Better yet, play "Spot the Hafnium" in Tom Lehrer's "The Elements."

— Craig Matsumoto, West Coast Editor, Light Reading

Be the first to post a comment regarding this story.
Sign In