Advertiser and

Buyer's Guide
Buyers Guide

Chip Shots blog

Greatest Hits of 2005
Greatest Hits of 2005

Featured Series
Featured Series

Web Sightings

Media Kit

Comments? Suggestions? Send us your feedback.


Strained-silicon engineering leads field of transistor technology improvements

The implementation of strain engineering has brought to bear a whole new set of techniques for scaling front-end-of-line (FEOL) structures well into and possibly beyond the 45-nm realm. By slightly modifying dielectric films and combining temperature, pressure, and other knob-twisting on the process chambers of existing equipment platforms, the desired film stresses—both compressive and tensile—can be tuned. With what appears to be additive effects, strain engineering boosts electron mobility without narrowing the transistor channel. A number of strain combinations (tensile and compressive SiN, selective epitaxial SiGe, etc.), which vary depending on the process integration schemes of the respective companies, are already in use in many leading-edge fabs. This issue's Hot Button presents the viewpoints of three FEOL gurus, who explain why strain is a great way to manage stress and improve device performance.

TAHIR GHANI (integration manager, 45-nm logic technology, Portland Technology Development, Intel): There have been frequent predictions in the past on the impending demise of Moore's Law and the resultant halt of technology scaling. All of these predictions have been proven wrong in due time as the perceived barriers have been conquered through process and device technology innovations. As a consequence, transistor gate lengths have shrunk to below 50 nm in state-of-the-art logic production processes. I believe that Moore's Law will continue to hold over the next 10 years, but numerous technological innovations will be required to maintain the pace of transistor scaling and performance gains along historical trends.

The top two critical issues facing front-end logic technology are: one, addressing the significant power dissipation challenge without degrading overall performance, and two, maintaining high drive current at scaled voltages and smaller gate dimensions. Effective solutions to these issues require significant modifications to the front-end process flow, including the introduction of new strain techniques to significantly increase channel mobility, selective introduction of new materials into the existing silicon technology base, and eventually changing from the existing planar transistor to a more radical nonplanar transistor structure.

Uniaxially strained silicon technology has already been demonstrated to dramatically increase transistor mobility and, thus, transistor performance. It has recently been implemented in production. It will likely be in common use for years to come, with even higher levels of channel strain introduced to satisfy the requirements of high drive current at lower supply voltage (VDD) without the thinning of gate oxides (TOX). Since defect growth under strain is faster than without strain, achieving high levels of channel strain in production while keeping defect levels under control will be a significant challenge. The successful integration of high levels of channel strain has the potential to significantly improve performance, which would delay the implementation of metal gate, nonplanar transistors, or other more-challenging process options by one to two generations.

There are three different transistor technology innovations beyond strain enhancements. Metal-gate electrodes reduce electrical TOX by eliminating polysilicon (poly-Si) gate depletion. Metal-gate transistors can be implemented either by fully siliciding poly-Si gates or by depositing separate gate electrode metals. High drive currents have been demonstrated for both metal-gate implementation options; however, each option has its own unique set of process challenges. High-k gate dielectric offers a path to TOX scaling while keeping acceptable levels of gate-leakage power for future high-performance logic nodes. High-k insertion is expected to be particularly beneficial to low-power technologies where gate-leakage reduction is important for minimizing standby leakage power.

Nonplanar fully depleted transistor structures such as trigates and FinFETs enable steeper subthreshold slope and channel-length scaling. A steeper subthreshold slope enables transistor off-state leakage (IOFF) reduction at a given threshhold voltage (VT), thereby reducing leakage power without undue performance penalty. The improved electrostatics of trigate/FinFET structures will enable continued gate-length scaling, while the low channel doping will ensure higher mobility relative to bulk transistors at scaled dimensions. However, mitigating a high extrinsic resistance (REXT) caused by ultrathin body and demonstrating yield worthiness of trigate/FinFET transistors will be a significant challenge.

MARK PINTO (senior vice president, chief technology officer, Applied Materials): Strain engineering has become a powerful tool in CMOS scaling. In parallel with junction engineering, gate-oxide scaling, and poly CD reduction, strain engineering can deliver enough of a performance boost to extend Moore's Law for several more generations.

With strain engineering, a silicon atom is displaced in its lattice by as much as 4%. This displacement significantly reconfigures the electronic structures of the silicon lattice to accelerate the flow of electrons and holes, thus increasing device performance. Since electrons and holes respond differently to the strained lattice in the channel region of MOS devices, two types of strain-inducing films are required: a set of films for NMOS and a set of films for PMOS devices, tensile and compressive, respectively.

The challenges to implementing strain engineering are several. First, we need to develop films of high enough stress to deliver the desired lattice change. For 45-nm logic devices, individual film-stress requirements are expected to exceed 3-GPa tensile and 2-GPa compressive (compare that with conventional film stresses of 100–200 MPa). Second, these strain-inducing films must be similar enough to films already in use to minimize integration impact. Finally, developing these films on existing equipment minimizes risk and cost of implementation.

Strain engineering can deliver enough of a performance boost to extend Moore's Law for several more generations.
—Mark Pinto

Three families of films are being pursued in today's sub-65-nm node for stress induction. These include nitrides and oxides that, essentially, replace existing films with a high-stress variant. The industry is also utilizing the lattice mismatch between silicon germanium (SiGe) and silicon.

Nitride films were among the first to be adapted for this application, coming into use already at 130 nm. By controlling the N-H, Si-H, and Si-N bond ratios and optimizing deposition conditions such as power and pressure, the films' stress can be tuned over a broad range, from –3.0 to +2 GPa. Yang et al. showed at the 2004 International Election Devices Meeting that the stress induced in the channel by a nitride liner film results in a >12% increase in saturation drive current (Idsat) in NMOS performance and >20% for PMOS, respectively.

A second family of films that can be used for strain engineering are the oxides used in shallow-trench isolation (STI) and premetal dielectric (PMD) fill. Typically, STI fill is an HDP-CVD oxide—a slightly compressive film. However, replacing the HDP oxide with a tensile TEOS/ozone film that undergoes shrinkage during the postdeposition anneal creates 1-GPa tensile stresses in the channel and increases drive current on the order of 5–10%. Adding a 350-MPa tensile PMD film further increases the NMOS drive current by 2–6%.

Finally, SiGe can be used to induce a compressive stress when it replaces conventional silicon source/drain regions of the transistors. This is accomplished by etching a recess into the Si and selectively growing an epitaxial layer of SiGe. Because the lattice constant of the SiGe is larger than that of Si, the channel region between the two SiGe source/ drains is placed under compressive stress. For a Ge:Si ratio of 20%, compressive channel stresses on the order of ~1 GPa are induced, leading to drive-current improvements of 35% for PMOS transistors.

To put these drive-current increases into perspective, such currents have normally increased by 30% in the transition from one technology node to the next. Computer simulations show that the stresses from the multiple films used can be additive. This leads to the exciting conclusion that the drive-current improvements required for spanning as many as two technology nodes can be achieved using these strain-inducing techniques.

KEN RIM (manager, CMOS performance solutions, Semiconductor R&D Center, IBM): As CMOS scaling continues into the 65-nm node and beyond, physical limitations play an increasingly crucial role in determining performance and integration density trends. Leakage current and power density concerns limit geometric scaling of parameters such as gate-oxide thickness and gate lengths, which have set the pace of CMOS performance for 40 years.

Strain engineering replaced geometric scaling as the primary performance driver starting with the 90-nm technology node. Strain-induced carrier mobility enhancement in silicon was first demonstrated in the late 1980s by pioneering research groups at IBM, Bell Labs, and Daimler Labs in Si/SiGe heterostructure experiments. In short, strain modifies the electronic band structure of silicon and can improve fundamental carrier transport properties. Such enhancement can translate to increased current drivability independent of geometric scaling. So the strain benefit in MOSFET is largely additive to the impact of conventional device scaling.

Strain control can add another dimension to the challenges of controlling device variability.
—Ken Rim

Today, strain is introduced into the MOSFET channel through various techniques. The so-called global strain or wafer-level strain refers to formation of strained-silicon substrates by utilizing the crystalline lattice mismatch between silicon and SiGe. A number of companies have successfully demonstrated stress-imparting dielectric layers over MOSFETs to introduce strain into the device channel. IBM and its development partners recently reported a technique, called dual-stress liner, to integrate separate optimization of such layers for n- and p-MOSFETs in a 90-nm technology. Device channels can also be strained by inserting epitaxial SiGe in selective areas of a MOSFET, such as the source and drain.

Just as geometric scaling of devices enabled years of CMOS performance enhancement, strain scaling is expected to drive performance in future technology generations. Combining different strain-engineering techniques is a promising prospect to maximize the benefit. For many of the FEOL process-induced strain-engineering techniques, geometric scaling of the device can result in more-effective coupling of strain into the MOSFET channel.

Strain engineering also introduces some unfamiliar challenges as well. One fundamental issue is the trade-off between strain-induced performance and defect generation that negatively affects yield. A new understanding of the maximum, yieldable stress level is required. Shrinking ground rules and the effects of 3-D geometries make process modeling and device design increasingly complex. Strain control can add another dimension to the challenges of controlling device variability across both the chip and the wafer. On the other hand, such challenges are also opportunities for innovations in silicon technology. Strain is a critical feature in today's CMOS technology and is vital for ensuring that our industry continues driving exponential gains in price and performance.

MicroHome | Search | Current Issue | MicroArchives
Buyers Guide | Media Kit

Questions/comments about MICRO Magazine? E-mail us at

© 2007 Tom Cheyney
All rights reserved.