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The $150 Million Machine Keeping Moore's Law Alive


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ASML employees assembling an EUV lithography system

Netherlands-based ASML has cornered the market for etching the tiniest nanoscopic features into microchips with light.

Credit: ASML

Inside a large clean room in rural Connecticut, engineers have begun constructing a critical component for a machine that promises to keep the tech industry as we know it on track for at least another decade.

The machine is being built by ASML, a Dutch company that has cornered the market for etching the tiniest nanoscopic features into microchips with light.

ASML introduced the first extreme ultraviolet (EUV) lithography machines for mass production in 2017, after decades spent mastering the technique. The machines perform a crucial role in the chipmaking ecosystem, and they have been used in the manufacture of the latest, most advanced chips, including those in new iPhones as well as computers used for artificial intelligence. The company's next EUV system, a part of which is being built in Wilton, Connecticut, will use a new trick to minimize the wavelength of light it uses—shrinking the size of features on the resulting chips and boosting their performance—more than ever before.

The current generation of EUV machines are already, to put it bluntly, kind of bonkers. Each one is roughly the size of a bus and costs $150 million. It contains 100,000 parts and 2 kilometers of cabling. Shipping the components requires 40 freight containers, three cargo planes, and 20 trucks. Only a few companies can afford the machines, and most of them go to the world's big three leading-edge chipmakers: the world's leading foundry, Taiwan-based TSMC, as well as Samsung, in South Korea, and Intel.

From Wired
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