IBM will use Toppan's photomasking for 14nm system chips

IBM will work alongside Toppan Printing to develop a photomask that will enable the production of super-slim 14nm system chips.

The firms aim to go one better than what is currently considered the most advanced chip, at 20nm, with the 14nm technology allowing chipmakers to produce 40-50 percent more chips from a silicon wafer, increasing efficiency, writes Nikkei (subscription needed).

A photomask essentially works by acting as a photographic negative in the chipmaking process, transferring a circuit pattern to a silicon wafer.

The two companies will use existing technology so chipmakers will be able to begin production with the 14nm process sooner than anticipated. It also means hefty sums will not need to be spent on new machinery.

It was previously thought that 14nm chipmaking technology would require extreme ultraviolet lithography, which would have meant delaying mass production of next gen chip systems until at least around 2015.

However Toppan and IBM are planning to create a photomask that uses conventional optical lithography, which means 14nm production will be possible using existing manufacturing facilities, with no need for replacement.

The photomask technology will be further developed at IBM’s factory in Vermont, while Toppan’s Saitama Prefecture factory in Japan will prepare for mass production.

It was claimed towards the end of last year that scientists in Taiwan had managed to produce a chip using a 9nm process, however this was purely at the experimental stage with production thought to be years away.

It has also been announced that IBM will work in partnership with ARM on developing a platform for the 14nm chip process, continuing a close relationship between the two firms.