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Intel Antes Up $3B for New Wafer Fab

Bigger wafers and smaller line widths is what chip making has always been about, and today is no different. Intel announced this week it will build a new wafer fabrication facility – called a “fab” -- in Chandler, Arizona that will make 300mm silicon wafers covered with chips with line widths of just 45 nanometers.

It promises to be a complex project.

"[The new fab is] the modern equivalent of building the pyramids but in 24 months," says Bob Baker, senior vice president of Intel’s Technology and Manufacturing group. "It will be our first high-volume facility for 45 nanometer [technology]," he adds.

Total cost will be in the neighborhood of $3 billion, and the plant will support about 1,000 new jobs.

The new plant, to begin operation in late 2007, will be Intel's first volume production wafer fab to make the 45nm chips, and its sixth plant to make 300mm wafers, according to Intel execs. The finished facility – dubbed Fab 32 – will be a total of a million square feet with 184,000 square feet of clean room space.

The move to 300mm wafer manufacturing technology means that the company can turn out twice as many chips with half the number of fabs, according to an Intel statement. The larger wafers are about 12-inches in diameter as opposed to 200mm wafers which are approximately 8 inches across. That means that the 300mm wafers have 225 percent more space than the smaller wafers.

Larger wafers reduce production costs per chip, and also use fewer resources. Intel estimates the new fab will use 40 percent less energy and water per chip than a 200-mm wafer factory.

The 45nm technology is two generations ahead of today's 90nm chips. Intel will begin producing chips based on 65nm technology later this year, Baker said.

Executives for Santa Clara, California-based Intel said the company will also invest $105 million dollars to convert an existing inactive wafer fab in New Mexico to a component temporary test facility. The project will provide additional test capacity to the company's factory network for the next two years and will result in an additional 300 jobs at the New Mexico site during that period.

About the Author

Stuart J. Johnston has covered technology, especially Microsoft, since February 1988 for InfoWorld, Computerworld, Information Week, and PC World, as well as for Enterprise Developer, XML & Web Services, and .NET magazines.

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