super-fast chips

CobraBoy (
Tue, 11 Feb 1997 15:02:52 -0800

Chip-maker comes upon a way to make
super-fast chips

Copyright =A9 1997
Copyright =A9 1997 Los Angeles Daily News

LOS ANGELES (Feb 11, 1997 01:01 a.m. EST) -- A maker of computer-chip
machines says it is testing a new
technique to make microprocessor chips perform four times as fast as
anything else in the market -- a process it found

Encouraged by the news, investors pushed up the stock price of Plasma &
Materials Technologies Inc. by 27 percent
Monday to close at 15 1/8 (one slash eight).

Microprocessor chips are the "brains" of a computer. They execute tasks
such as running programs and calculating

Analysts believe that if this technique proves to be reliable and practical
for mass production, it would revolutionize
the computer chip industry.

"It is a very important discovery," said Ted O'Neill on Monday, a chip
analyst at H.C. Wainwright & Co. in Boston.
"A number of companies have tried to do the same thing, but this is the
best one we've seen so far."

Added Tejinder Singh, senior semiconductor analyst at Unterberg Harris in
New York: "It is definitely

Plasma Chief Executive Greg Campbell, who Started the company in 1986 based
on his doctoral thesis on plasma,
said the market potential "for this type of technology is very, very large."

If Plasma captures 15 percent of the market by 2000, he said, it will add
$400 million in revenues -- three times its
current annual sales.

Plasma's technique strengthens the insulation of the metallic wires on a
chip, lowering electrical interference and
allowing faster performance.

When metallic wires of transistors on a chip get too close together, their
signals get crossed. That's a problem
manufacturers increasingly face as they add more transistors to speed up

Chip makers currently use an insulating technique to prevent this
electrical crosstalk -- growing a solid silicon dioxide
film or coating o. the chip.

But the best the market can achieve is a 3.5 to 4.0 "dielectric constant"
-- a measure of insulation effectiveness -- said
Tony Denboer, an analyst at Integrated Circuit Engineering, a Scottsdale,
Ariz., consulting firm.

Plasma's method lowers the constant to 2.0.

The company uses a technique called "Flowfill" -- mixing methyl silane gas
and liquid hydrogen peroxide to create a
liquid coating on a chip.

"Having a low dielectric constant is a significant advantage," Denboer said.

But the Valley company did not develop the process itself.

Electrotech, a British maker of chip manufacturing equipment that Plasma
purchased in November, actually came up
with Flowfill.

When the two companies were negotiating the acquisition, Plasma knew about
some of the technique's advantages:
=46lowfill makes it easier to fill small gaps on a chip and creates a flat
film for easier and cheaper manufacturing.

But the method's other benefit -- creating a low dielectric constant -- was
not disclosed by Electrotech's owners until
the sale was finalized.

"They didn't tell us because if we didn't consummate the deal, we would
have been competitors," Campbell said.

Plasma had been developing its own Insulation technique, but the best it
could do was a dielectric constant between
3.2 and 3.5.

Getting Flowfill was like finding an unexpected jewel, Campbell said.

"I was thrilled," he said. =1A


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