We went to see how the processor is made

Israel, a Middle Eastern country bathed in the Mediterranean Sea and center stage of biblical mythology. It is in this country, with more than 4 thousand years of culture, that there are factories and centers for research and development Intelone of the largest technology companies in the world.

And right here, more than 14,000 employees (including 10,000 engineers) work on the creation of one of the most complex and advanced materials ever created by mankind, which is also vital for the modern world: microprocessors.

The Enemy had the opportunity to come to this country and get a little familiar with the processes of planning and creating a computer brain. And after knowing every step, we are even more fascinated by the world of technology.

The Silicon Valley of the East

Overlooking the Mediterranean Sea is the Holy Land of the Jews, home to the heart of Christianity and one of the oldest lands of mankind. Although the state of Israel has existed for just over 70 years, this is one of humanity’s oldest regions, with the first signs of civilization dating back to the 20th century BC.

Israel is a 70-year-old country, but with a thousand-year history – Reproduction/Israeli tourism

The country was founded in 1948 after the end of the Second World War and 74 years later it is still a scene of conflict. However, this did not prevent his government from thinking about the future since its inception. The country calls itself the “Startup Nation” and is proud to be the country with the world’s highest concentration of engineers and PhDs per capita.

With that speech in 1974, Intel opened its first technology development center outside the USA – in just six years of existence. By then, the company had opened sales branches in Japan and Switzerland and assembly branches in the Philippines and Malaysia.

In addition to Intel, Israel also has companies such as IBM, Qualcomm, HP, SanDisk, Red Hat and Apple. Today, the area is known as “Silicon Wadi”, which means Silicon Valley in Hebrew. Overall, according to the Israeli consulate in Brazil, dozens of multinational technology companies are present in the territory. There are more than 60 technological, medical and scientific research centers in the country.

Isic Silas says processor development process could take 30 months – Rodrigo Guerra/The Enemy

Daniel Zonshine, Israel’s ambassador to Brazil, said at a lecture at the Federation of Industry of the State of Goiás that “Israel today is known as the Silicon Valley of the Middle East and is the country that invests the most in research and development in the world.” According to him, the country invests 5.44 percent of its gross domestic product (GDP) in research and this is what drives technology companies from all over the world to invest in the region.

The creation of the brain

The trip to Israel wasn’t just about getting to know the technological side of the country. The main idea was to show more than 80 vehicles around the world the launch of Raptor Lake, Intel’s 13th generation processor, along with the display of the center for development, design and research in the city of Haifa and the factory in Kiryat Gat, the largest company Napredna

“It takes 30 to 24 months to make a processor. That’s how long it takes for a processor to come off the board with our initial ideas and mass production at our factory in Kiryat Gat,” says Isic Silas, Intel’s vice president in Israel.

Intel Development Center building in Haifa, Israel – Photo: Intel

In Haifa, we got to know the Design Center campus and the entire processor idealization process, where our visit actually began. There we could see all the steps of creating a microprocessor.

However, the recently announced Raptor Lake processor accelerated development due to compatibility with the previous processor line, Alder Lake (12th generation). Perhaps that period could have been shortened even more, after all, the chip was conceived and created during the Covid-19 pandemic.

“We had to think quickly about how we were going to take on this mission and made quick adjustments to keep the workflow going. We used conference rooms, virtual communications and other resources to move the project forward,” says the CEO.

The process is quite complex, mainly because it involves several areas of the company, such as energy use, actual performance enhancement, participation of partner companies and, of course, many tests. In this phase, around 15,000 processors were produced and are still in the testing phase. These processors are sent to partners (manufacturers of motherboards, computers, etc.) and undergo a very strict quality control system.

Processors go through long-term tests – Photo: Intel

The testing period itself lasts about 12 months and goes through the Alpha and Beta phases, each about three months, plus three months of quality control, and finally the pilot products are produced.

The development center in Haifa is necessary so that the processor arrives at the factory practically with the data ready. In the case of Raptor Lake, the idea was to reduce the design of the chip even more by placing cores with more performance (P-Core) and Efficiency (E-Core), and when we talk about the nanometer scale, every micrometer makes a difference.

Compared to the previous generation, the Core i9, for example, made an architectural leap forward. It went from 8 P-colors and 8 E-colors to 8 P-colors and 16 E-colors. But what is it anyway?

In general, performance cores are responsible for running foreground and processor-intensive programs (such as games), while efficient processors are intended for background programs such as Discord, Steam, and others. In this way, Intel promises to take full advantage of the chip’s performance.

Intel’s development center in Haifa works with several departments equipped with precision robots – Photo: Intel

There are several test centers, such as energy, thermal and operational efficiency – which includes overclocking with liquid nitrogen. These tests should validate all the processes that have been designed for the processor to be approved for production.

Needless to say, how advanced and automated the tests are. Everywhere we see robots swapping chips to perform plug-in tests, computers running artificial intelligence and benchmark and stress tests. According to one of the engineers, there are tests that simulate how processors will behave in 10 years.

However, what caught my attention the most is how the repairs are done on the entry-level processors. Instead of creating a beta chip from scratch, the QA team has a “microscopic soldering machine”.

So minimal that engineers even demonstrated a machine that can create chip repair solder points up to 11 nanometers thick.

Microscopic image of a processor being repaired – Photo: Intel

To give you an idea, this solder spot is equivalent to 0.000011 millimeters. This machine should be in an environment that is completely isolated and resistant to as little vibration as possible in order to perform this repair. Otherwise, the chip and the entire process that built it needs to be rebuilt from scratch, which can disrupt the entire project schedule.

According to Intel engineers, the price of a beta chip can range into the tens of thousands of dollars (Intel did not disclose the price) and it can take 4-5 days to produce such a part. And that is why this machine is so important for development.

factory of the future

The last day of the visit took us to FAB 28 in Kiryat Gat Intel’s most advanced factory located in northern Israel. There is a center with the most modern in terms of production of any product.

Intel’s factory is one of the most advanced centers in the world – Photo: Intel

In addition to having several robots to make ready-made waffles and chips. Explaining very simply, a wafer is a disk of semiconductor material used in the manufacture of integrated circuits.

Well, FAB 28 is the answer to why Intel hasn’t suffered as much with the production of its chips as other companies in the field of technology. The factory covers an area of ​​about 130,000 square meters, and the construction cost about 5 billion US dollars. And not only that: the company’s industrial park continues to expand and has two more buildings under construction that will open in 2023.

To enter the production line, it is necessary to wear a suit called “Bunny Suit”, which covers the whole body and prevents the chips from being “contaminated” by human presence. And not only that, the entire production line is illuminated in yellow, this is because the waffles are sensitive to ultraviolet radiation, present in white light.

The engineers who accompanied us said that the factory in its maximum production state produces about 800,000 chips per day.

All production is done by robots that work from wafer to chip that we find in computer stores. In addition, engineers have augmented reality tools to help with machine repairs.

Honestly, you can’t “see” the creation of a chip. All processes are carried out inside state-of-the-art robotic machines, giving engineers (and visitors) a small glimpse into the process being carried out on the machine.

the future of the future

The truth is that all this experience has shown that this piece, so important in the life of a PC gamer, that leaves the factory and goes straight to the consumer, is only the tip of the iceberg. Intel shows that being in Israel is one of the best things for the company and its successful history.

Training people in a country that invested heavily was a helping hand for the company. For Israel, education was a major investment that set the country on a technological path. We’re seeing this experience reach PC gamers around the world, and it’s not stopping there.

Now we wait to see the results of Raptor Lake and how it will affect the market in the coming months and years, not to mention the next generations of processors that are currently being developed in East Silicon Valley.

*The journalist traveled at the invitation of Intel


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