Next-generation lithography is on the way, but subwavelength technology is already using conventional lasers to produce next-generation feature sizes.
Daniel C. McCarthy, Senior Editor
The semiconductor industry has generally followed the path of least resistance in its pursuit of denser and smaller chip features, a goal defined by the Rayleigh equation. For years, wavelength (λ) was the simplest variable to work with in this equation. However, the measure of "least resistance" has become increasingly uncertain as lithography enters the submicron regime, where delivering the beam to the wafer requires new lens materials, unfamiliar exposure sources and increasingly complex stepper designs.
All of these issues coalesced earlier this year into uncharacteristic delays, when the industry attempted to phase in 193-nm stepper technology. The most apparent example appeared in July, when Intel Corp. in Santa Clara, Calif., canceled a $100 million order for advanced 193-nm tools from Silicon Valley Group Inc. in Wilton, Conn. Intel had intended that the new tools would carry its production from the 130- to the 90-nm node…