eLivermore.com - By Bill Nale


Livermore History - Intel Fab 3

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You've heard of the Fab 4, and recently the Fab 5, but what about Fab 3?

Intel Fab 3 is located on North Mines Road near 1st St, behind Coco's.  Back then Smorgabobs was at the Coco's ...er... Crazy Buffet location.

"Fab" is short for Fabrication Plant, and is where integrated circuits are fabricated from silicon wafers.

Fab 3 is Intel's first Fab outside of the Santa Clara area, and was built "way out" in Livermore partially to spread out the fabs in case of earthquakes.  Now the fabs are spread out all over the world.

Groundbreaking for Fab 3 began in late 1972 and began processing 3 inch wafers in April 1973.  The first product was the 1103, which was a 1Kbit dynamic RAM.  Several years later Fab 3 was used to develop the 4 inch wafer.

An additional fab building (Fab 3a) as well as an Administrative Building was built in 1976.  The final building - the two story building - was built in 1980 and was used as offices and testing.

Fab 3 had a lot of uniqueness to it, and a lot of innovations.  The famous Bunny Suits were first introduced at the Fab 3 in Livermore.  Legend has it that people would find excuses to visit Fab 3 just to put on a bunnysuit.  Fab 3 was also the first Intel fab to process 3" and 4" wafers.

Fab 3 produced many of Intel's key products, including the 80386 CPU, which was a major success for the company.  Fab 3 was the only fab producing the 386 for quite some time.

Fab 3 was closed in 1990.  The site was sold to Seaway Semiconductor which was planning to manufacture semiconductors as a joint venture known as Extel (later changed to Livermore Semiconductor).  No manufacturing actually took place.  The building was next sold to Axon Photonics in March 2001.  I don't know if they still own it at this point.

The fab buildings still stand, but a lot has changed in the area recently.  N Mines road now crosses the railroad tracks with an overpass.  Smorgabobs has been replaced by Coco's, then Crazy Buffet, the lumber yard across the street closed long ago and other businesses are there.  The parking lot area across the street is now a shopping center with a Lowe's home improvement center, Bank of America, Chili's, Applebees, Safeway, and more.


Moore's Law and Fab 3.

Gordon Moore, one of the founders of Intel, is often quoted for his prediction that silicon capabilities double every 18 months.  This can be seen with Fab 3:

1973:  1Kbit dynamic RAMs produced
2004:  1Gbit dynamic RAMs being introduced.

A 1Kbit DRAM has 1024 bits, or 128 bytes.
A 1Gbit DRAM has 1,073,741,824 bits, or 128Mbytes.
The 1Gbit DRAM has over 1,000,000 times the bits of the 1Kbit DRAM.
That requires doubling the bits 20 times, which at 18 months per doubling comes to 30 years.  Pretty accurate prediction.

Early on the DRAM density would change in 4x increments.  DRAMs were available in 1K, then 4K, then 16K, then 64K bit sizes.  This would occur roughly every 3 years.  Today the density changes in 2x increments, with 128M, then 256M, then 512M, they 1Gbit parts being produced.  This occurs about every 18 months.  With the fast paced computer industry, we can't wait 3 years between developments.

Intel has not been in the DRAM business for a long time now.


What is a 3" wafer?

A 3" wafer is a wafer of silicon 3 inches in diameter.  The silicon is "grown" into 3" diameter cylinders, and then sliced into thin wafers to be processed into chips.  The chips themselves are square, with the pattern repeated on the round wafer.  The partial chips near the edges are discarded, as well as any die with defects.

Fab 3 processed 3" and 4" wafers.  Today most are 8", moving to 12" wafers.  Larger wafers are more cost effective, since the usable silicon area increases by the square of the diameter, but require more advanced and precise equipment to process.  The size has gradually moved up as technology has advanced.



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