One Small Step; August 1996; Scientific American Magazine; by Gibbs; 3 Page(s)
With grand fanfare, the electronics giant Texas Instruments announced in May that it had perfected a process that can produce silicon microchips of far greater detail and complexity than any currently available. Newspapers widely marveled at the innovation; many pointed out that TI is the first to produce chips with features as small as 0.18 micron (millionths of a meter) wide. Some predicted that the microchips would launch a generation of wonderfully smart and compact contraptions.
Such reports were wrong on two counts, but correct on the third. TI was not first. Although that company has prototypes on hand and hopes to have a factory constructed by next year, IBM began shipping small quantities of equally detailed integrated circuits in May. And both TI¿s and IBM¿s processes create tiny transistors that are 0.25, not 0.18, micron in width. (The much misunderstood 0.18-micron measurement refers not to feature size but to the distance current must travel to switch a single transistor.) This long-expected advance is the logical next step beyond the 0.35-micron features that make up the Pentium Pro and PowerPC chips now on the market, but it was not anticipated to occur until 1997.