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A Big Step Toward The Billion Transistor Chip

Developments to Watch


Semiconductor companies are already starting to gear up for the next century. No wonder. Before the year 2000, they will need to shrink their transistors from the ultrasmall--0.75 microns across--to the ethereal--just 0.25 microns. That's 400 times thinner than a human hair. Tomorrow's superchips can then be packed with hundreds of millions of transistors, or 10 times the record now. And a year or two into the next century, 0.1-micron widths will be the cutting edge. That's tiny enough to cram billions of transistors on a chip.

To achieve such "gigascale" chips, semiconductor makers will probably have to scrap optical-based "printing" methods, which they've used for the past two decades, and turn to something like X-ray lithography. Cypress Semiconductor Corp. figures there's no point in dawdling. So the San Jose (Calif.) company may become the first to put X-ray lithography into commercial production. It has just purchased equipment from Hampshire Instruments Inc. in Rochester, N. Y. The $4 million system generates X-rays with a laser, not a room-size synchrotron, or atom smasher, that costs at least $30 million.EDITED BY OTIS PORT

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