chips

Jose G. Perez jgperez at netzero.net
Tue Aug 12 04:25:40 MDT 2003


Les writes:

>>i posted a few months ago about water use in chip production. it is
scary.<<

Well, I read the paper. I guess just about *anything* in the hands of
the capitalists is "scary" but I don't see where there is anything about
chips in particular that is especially or singularly scary.

On the contrary, much of the information in the article points to at
least some of the issues being fairly easy to resolve, first among them
water use. And that is, simply, that water is *used* not *consumed*,
i.e., transformed into something else. Fabs already have extensive water
purification plants attached; additional treatment should allow for
pretty much constant recycling of the same "batch" of water over and
over. How much of that takes place under capitalism is, of course, an
entirely different question. I assume that only such recycling as costs
less than "new" water bought from whoever wholesales it at the given
place is even contemplated, and probably not even that is done, as this
would probably involve upfront engineering and capital costs and adds
complexity to the an already immensely complex operation. 

Also, the article mixes together data from different *generations* of
microchips. The authors explain this was necessary due to the lack of
data. However, that quite likely *obscures* something I suspect is going
on, which is that the average amount of chip area in a given device,
even in computers, is declining. I remember populating a 2MB RAM board
with dozens of chips circa 1990, and the 8088 PC it went into had a
motherboard that was crawling with all sorts of chips. Nowadays there
are a handful of chips, and the count is decreasing, you can say as much
also for TVs, radios and everything else. More and more functions are
being integrated into a single chip. For example, Pentium-generation
computers had a Level-2 cache on the mobo, typically 256 or 512 K. Those
are now part of the CPU. Intel has integrated a lot of the circuitry
needed for wireless networking into the "centrino" CPU and accompanying
chipset. That's just an illustration that today's one square centimeter
of silicon wafer real estate packs 4X or 8X the number of transistors of
the older circuits from five years ago. And because the circuit elements
in the chip are smaller, they can run much faster, and hence do more,
although this does mean they consume more electricity (modern CPU's are
up around 50W of power). 

There's also a question of improved processes and controls. The new IBM
300mm wafer fab is entirely robotic. No human being ever actually gets
near enough to even breathe on a wafer. The further development and
refinement of this sort of facility will reduce all sorts of
requirements, for one thing, the "clean" rooms no longer have to be
life-sustaining (large enough for people to work in; with sufficient air
flow, which has to be ultra-filtered to keep out particles, etc. etc.
etc.)

The more comprehensive approach of the article in terms of accounting
for the environmental footprint of chip making I think probably could be
usefully extended into the life of the devices. For example, Liquid
Crystal Display screens are beginning to replace tubes, not just in
monitors but on TV's. It may well be worth while to expend a LOT more
energy creating this kind of display since in use, it consumes a lot
less electricity (it does).

The old vacuum tube TV's that I grew up with consumed huge amounts of
electricity. Apart from the picture tube, the circuitry in a modern TV
eats up next to nothing. For example, a VCR player I have is rated at
17W, but another one from the early 1980's is 75W. The mid-70's TV it
feeds eats 450W.

Also, I found some of the statements in the article unsupported. The
assertion that "hundreds" or "thousands" of chemicals are used in Fabs
is not documented and that many of these might be toxic is also clearly
speculative.

I'm perfectly willing to believe the absolute worst about the
capitalists and how they do things, and the article does highlight how
sketchy what we know is, but I just didn't see anything that was a
tremendous source of concern, apart from this is one more industry the
capitalists run in the insane way the capitalists run everything.

José











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