If you asked somebody at random to name a semiconductor company, the chances are most people would say: "Intel". Now, there aren't really any compound semiconductor companies that make for household names (yet), but if you had to pick the "Intel" of the GaAs world, there's a fair chance that you'd say: "RF Micro Devices".
These two firms are the kingpins in silicon and GaAs semiconductors. One thing that really characterizes them is their commitment to research and the development of new transistor technologies. It is, after all, Intel s Gordon Moore whose eponymous "law" is most closely associated with the forward march of semiconductor performance.
Intel is not one for resting on its laurels. Months ahead of its rivals, it has just become the first to launch commercial designs based on the 45 nm technology "node". These designs are revolutionary transistors featuring metal gates and a high-k gate dielectric based on the rare element hafnium – a feat that Moore himself regards as the biggest change in transistor technology in four decades.
Down at RFMD, there are parallels. The Greensboro firm, which was the first to really exploit the GaAs HBT in cell phone handsets, has been secretly working on a BiFET process, and what it describes as a revolutionary GaAs transistor. GaN HEMTs are also set for volume production and we await further details with interest.
What s noticeable about the way in which Intel now promotes itself is the importance placed on materials, something that the compounds industry has inevitably focused on as a matter of course. Go to the Intel webpages covering 45 nm technology and you ll be assailed with the section of the periodic table in which hafnium resides.
Beyond 2009, Intel might just be taking a closer look at groups III and V. In fact, its researchers already are – with a view to using compound semiconductor transistors around the middle of the next decade.
This convergence of silicon and compound semiconductors will be one of the critical industry themes under discussion at our 2008 Key Conference, for which we re heading back to the Florida Keys for the first time in five years. Mike Mayberry, Intel s director of components research, is presenting a keynote talk at the event. To get a look at the future of Intel – and of the wider compound semiconductor business – sign up for the event now at compoundsemiconductor.net.