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Déjà vu all over again

In American sporting lore, October marks the run-up to the Fall Classic—baseball’s presumptuously named professional championship, the World Series. One perennial contender for the crown is the New York Yankees, a team that evokes extreme emotions of either rabid support or detestation when their name is mentioned. The Yankees have been eliminated from this year’s playoffs (a result that elicited no tears from this reporter), but the wacky spirit of one of the team’s legendary players has become a staple of American culture, regardless of whether the boys of summer are on the playing field.

An all-star catcher and then manager during his career, Yogi Berra has become better known as the source of strangely appropriate linguistic aphorisms and malaprops known as Yogi-isms. Many recent events
and ongoing trends offer up an opportunity, like a proverbial hanging curveball, to link Yogi’s wisdom to the realm of semiconductor

“It gets late early out here.” In the 24/7 chipmaking world, where
instant communication and global reach mean no rest for the weary and a growing addiction to Crackberrys, this Yogi-ism takes on a peculiarly relevant logic. Consider the following scenario. The process equipment company point man at the fab in Shanghai needs info asap from his
colleague in Silicon Valley, the same colleague who is juggling an urgent technical call with a French accent from Crolles. Wasn’t it the pop group Chicago that sang: “Does anybody really know what time it is? Does anybody really care?” Not the yield-ramp-obsessed bosses,
that’s for sure.

Yogi once observed, “I always thought that record would stand until it was broken.” His adage could well apply to the advanced memory-chip segment. DRAM has been the king of memory since most can remember, but the enormous triple-digit growth in NAND flash over the past five years has been one of the industry’s bright spots. A recent report from Denali Software cites research that predicts NAND shipments will surpass DRAM in early 2006, at least in terms of megabit rate. The leader and driver of the high-density NAND flash revolution is none other than Samsung, which has kept prices low while building capacity; Merrill Lynch reports that the Korean chaebol has more than two-and-a-half times the wafer starts as the next competitor, Hynix.

Then there’s the most famous—and overused—Yogi-ism of all: “It’s like déjà vu all over again.” Case in point is the return of Tom St. Dennis to the Applied Materials fold, the company where he made a name for himself as a sales and marketing whiz in his earlier days. Given his recent status as part of Novellus’s governing troika, the move comes as a surprise—and a likely windfall for the lawyers billing all those hours haggling over the nondisclosure agreements between the two chip equipment rivals. Didn’t the attorneys make enough of a killing when Sass Somekh and several other former AMATers jumped ship in the opposite direction?

As our Reality Check contributor Bijan Moslehi notes in this issue’s column, there’s also an eerie sense of déjà vu all over again with the evolving discussion about high-k dielectric materials. Seems a growing number of industry muckedymucks are growing disenchanted with atomic layer deposition as the potential process of record for high-k at 45 nm, touting a metallorganic CVD approach as the alternative. As Bijan points out, this emerging controversy bears a strange
resemblance to the ruckus back in the late ’90s about whether CVD or spin-on deposition would be best for laying down the new low-k dielectric materials. Will CVD win out again, or does ALD—which already has a foothold in advanced DRAM capacitor-building processes—still have the inside track?

Perhaps Yogi’s second-most-overused -ism applies to the high-k deposition controversy as well: “It ain’t over till it’s over.”

Tom Cheyney

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