The Art of Failure 2010

The beauty-and creepiness-of chip defects

1 min read

Image: Jacqueline Kwa
Sometimes technology mimics nature. A copper grid and the platinum metal deposited on it were ejected at different rates by a beam of energetic ions, and the result was a platinum lily in a copper valley.

Just as one man’s trash is another man’s treasure, one person’s systems failure is another one’s masterpiece. This is the third year that the “Art of Failure Analysis”was featured at the IEEE International Symposium on the Physical and Failure Analysis of Integrated Circuits (IPFA). Participants submitted the most intriguing images they’d captured during chip autopsies. Favorite pictures from the collection, which range from charming to just plain creepy, were on display at the symposium from 5 to 9 July in Singapore.

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The First Million-Transistor Chip: the Engineers’ Story

Intel’s i860 RISC chip was a graphics powerhouse

21 min read
Twenty people crowd into a cubicle, the man in the center seated holding a silicon wafer full of chips

Intel's million-transistor chip development team

In San Francisco on Feb. 27, 1989, Intel Corp., Santa Clara, Calif., startled the world of high technology by presenting the first ever 1-million-transistor microprocessor, which was also the company’s first such chip to use a reduced instruction set.

The number of transistors alone marks a huge leap upward: Intel’s previous microprocessor, the 80386, has only 275,000 of them. But this long-deferred move into the booming market in reduced-instruction-set computing (RISC) was more of a shock, in part because it broke with Intel’s tradition of compatibility with earlier processors—and not least because after three well-guarded years in development the chip came as a complete surprise. Now designated the i860, it entered development in 1986 about the same time as the 80486, the yet-to-be-introduced successor to Intel’s highly regarded 80286 and 80386. The two chips have about the same area and use the same 1-micrometer CMOS technology then under development at the company’s systems production and manufacturing plant in Hillsboro, Ore. But with the i860, then code-named the N10, the company planned a revolution.

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