There is a treasure trove of information online about the way sand is turned into silicon chips, but none better than big CPU makers themselves to illustrate it. So it was with excitement that we received news of a new Intel animation demonstrating the process (see below), though we are a little underwhelmed by the results.
The video attempts to detail the intricate series of steps that turn a humble grain of sand into the processor powering modern PCs. Except, the video is anything but intricate - it's more a generic overview, than a detailed study. Intel's "sand to silicon" process was much better explained in a series of slides (.pdf) released earlier in the year on their web site.
The animation, crude as it is, did get us thinking about the CPU process. The average CPU can take up to two months to complete and circuits which stretch many kilometres in length are fit onto a space no larger than the size of a human fingernail.
AMD released a video including details like this earlier this year (see below).
While the dramatic music, the booming Michael Bay-style camera work and references to the oddly named "nano-cosmos" had us sniggering, the video actually includes a good deal of interesting information regarding the CPU manufacturing process.
For instance, it's worth noting that AMD foot soldiers operate in one heck of a clean environment (as do Intel's). According to the video, silicon wafers are fabricated in an environment 100,000 times cleaner than your typical operating room, in an area larger than two soccer fields. This is done to ensure no dust or other environmental contaminants can come into contact with the silicon crystals.
AMD also make references to "hundred's of stages" in the video, noting the complexity of turning sand crystals into solid processing gold, so to speak. AMD photolithographic techniques are compared to the 70's art of slide projection, picking up on the importance of light during silicon chip creation.
The ion implementation stage, where atoms are transformed in the process is also an important step. Copper even gets a mention - AMD are keen to celebrate the wonders of copper in modern CPUs, claiming to be one of the first to press copper into mass production with their CPUs.
Intel have created better videos in the past. The one below does a good job in explaining Intel's 45nm advances (in 2007).