Interconnects (integrated circuits)

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In integrated circuits (ICs), interconnects are structures that connect two or more circuit elements (such as transistors) together electrically. The design and layout of interconnects on an IC is vital to its proper function, performance, power efficiency, reliability, and fabrication yield. The material interconnects are made from depends on many factors. Chemical and mechanical compatibility with the semiconductor substrate, and the dielectric in between the levels of interconnect is necessary, otherwise barrier layers are needed. Suitability for fabrication is also required; some chemistries and processes prevent integration of materials and unit processes into a larger technology (recipe) for IC fabrication. In fabrication, interconnects are formed during the back-end-of-line after the fabrication of the transistors on the substrate.

Integrated circuit electronic circuit manufactured by lithography; set of electronic circuits on one small flat piece (or "chip") of semiconductor material, normally silicon

An integrated circuit or monolithic integrated circuit is a set of electronic circuits on one small flat piece of semiconductor material that is normally silicon. The integration of large numbers of tiny transistors into a small chip results in circuits that are orders of magnitude smaller, faster, and less expensive than those constructed of discrete electronic components. The IC's mass production capability, reliability, and building-block approach to circuit design has ensured the rapid adoption of standardized ICs in place of designs using discrete transistors. ICs are now used in virtually all electronic equipment and have revolutionized the world of electronics. Computers, mobile phones, and other digital home appliances are now inextricable parts of the structure of modern societies, made possible by the small size and low cost of ICs.

Semiconductor device fabrication process used to create the integrated circuits that are present in everyday electrical and electronic devices

Semiconductor device fabrication is the process used to create the integrated circuits that are present in everyday electrical and electronic devices. It is a multiple-step sequence of photolithographic and chemical processing steps during which electronic circuits are gradually created on a wafer made of pure semiconducting material. Silicon is almost always used, but various compound semiconductors are used for specialized applications.

Dielectric electrically poorly conducting or non-conducting, non-metallic substance of which charge carriers are generally not free to move

A dielectric is an electrical insulator that can be polarized by an applied electric field. When a dielectric is placed in an electric field, electric charges do not flow through the material as they do in an electrical conductor but only slightly shift from their average equilibrium positions causing dielectric polarization. Because of dielectric polarization, positive charges are displaced in the direction of the field and negative charges shift in the opposite direction. This creates an internal electric field that reduces the overall field within the dielectric itself. If a dielectric is composed of weakly bonded molecules, those molecules not only become polarized, but also reorient so that their symmetry axes align to the field.


Interconnects are classified as local or global interconnects depending on the signal propagation distance it is able to support. The width and thickness of the interconnect, as well as the material from which it is made, are some of the significant factors that determine the distance a signal may propagate. Local interconnects connect circuit elements that are very close together, such as transistors separated by ten or so other contiguously laid out transistors. Global interconnects can transmit further, such as over large-area sub-circuits. Consequently, local interconnects may be formed from materials with relatively high electrical resistivity such as polycrystalline silicon (sometimes silicided to extend its range) or tungsten. To extend the distance an interconnect may reach, various circuits such as buffers or restorers may be inserted at various points along a long interconnect.

Electrical resistivity and its converse, electrical conductivity, is a fundamental property of a material that quantifies how strongly it resists or conducts the flow of electric current. A low resistivity indicates a material that readily allows the flow of electric current. Resistivity is commonly represented by the Greek letter ρ (rho). The SI unit of electrical resistivity is the ohm-metre (Ω⋅m). For example, if a 1 m × 1 m × 1 m solid cube of material has sheet contacts on two opposite faces, and the resistance between these contacts is 1 Ω, then the resistivity of the material is 1 Ω⋅m.

Polycrystalline silicon high purity, polycrystalline form of silicon

Polycrystalline silicon, also called polysilicon or poly-Si, is a high purity, polycrystalline form of silicon, used as a raw material by the solar photovoltaic and electronics industry.

A silicide is a compound that has silicon with (usually) more electropositive elements.

Interconnect properties

The geometric properties of an interconnect are width, thickness, spacing (the distance between an interconnect and another on the same level), pitch (the sum of the width and spacing), and aspect ratio, or AR, (the thickness divided by width). The width, spacing, AR, and ultimately, pitch, are constrained in their minimum and maximum values by design rules that ensure the interconnect (and thus the IC) can be fabricated by the selected technology with a reasonable yield. Width is constrained to ensure minimum width interconnects do not suffer breaks, and maximum width interconnects can be planarized by chemical mechanical polishing (CMP). Spacing is constrained to ensure adjacent interconnects can be fabricated without any conductive material bridging. Thickness is determined solely by the technology, and the aspect ratio, by the chosen width and set thickness. In technologies that support multiple levels of interconnects, each group of contiguous levels, or each level, has its own set of design rules.

Before the introduction of CMP for planarizing IC layers, interconnects had design rules that specified larger minimum widths and spaces than the lower level to ensure that the underlying layer's rough topology did not cause breaks in the interconnect formed on top. The introduction of CMP has made finer geometries possible.

The AR is an important factor. In technologies that form interconnect structures with conventional processes, the AR is limited to ensure that the etch creating the interconnect, and the dielectric deposition that fills the voids in between interconnects with dielectric, can be done successful. In those that form interconnect structures with damascene processes, the AR must permit successful etch of the trenches, deposition of the barrier metal (if needed) and interconnect material.

Interconnect layout are further restrained by design rules that apply to collections of interconnects. For a given area, technologies that rely on CMP have density rules to ensure the whole IC has an acceptable variation in interconnect density. This is because the rate at which CMP removes material depends on the material's properties, and great variations in interconnect density can result in large areas of dielectric which can dish, resulting in poor planarity. To maintain acceptable density, dummy interconnects (or dummy wires) are inserted into regions with spare interconnect density.

Historically, interconnects were routed in straight lines, and could change direction by using sections aligned 45° away from the direction of travel. As IC structure geometries became smaller, to obtain acceptable yields, restrictions were imposed on interconnect direction. Initially, only global interconnects were subject to restrictions; were made to run in straight lines aligned eastwest or northsouth. To allow easy routing, alternate levels of interconnect ran in the same alignment, so that changes in direction were achieved by connecting to a lower or upper level of interconnect though a via. Local interconnects, especially the lowest level (usually polysilicon) could assume a more arbitrary combination of routing options to attain the a higher packing density.


In silicon ICs, the most commonly used semiconductor in ICs, the first interconnects were made of aluminum. By the 1970s, substrate compatibility and reliability concerns (mostly concerning electromigration forced the use of aluminum-based alloys containing silicon, copper, or both. By the late 1990s, the high resistivity of aluminum, coupled with the narrow widths of the interconnect structures forced by continuous feature size downscaling, resulted in prohibitively high resistance in interconnect structures. This forced aluminum's replacement by copper interconnects.

Silicon Chemical element with atomic number 14

Silicon is a chemical element with the symbol Si and atomic number 14. It is a hard and brittle crystalline solid with a blue-grey metallic lustre; and it is a tetravalent metalloid and semiconductor. It is a member of group 14 in the periodic table: carbon is above it; and germanium, tin, and lead are below it. It is relatively unreactive. Because of its high chemical affinity for oxygen, it was not until 1823 that Jöns Jakob Berzelius was first able to prepare it and characterize it in pure form. Its melting and boiling points of 1414 °C and 3265 °C respectively are the second-highest among all the metalloids and nonmetals, being only surpassed by boron. Silicon is the eighth most common element in the universe by mass, but very rarely occurs as the pure element in the Earth's crust. It is most widely distributed in dusts, sands, planetoids, and planets as various forms of silicon dioxide (silica) or silicates. More than 90% of the Earth's crust is composed of silicate minerals, making silicon the second most abundant element in the Earth's crust after oxygen.

In semiconductor technology, aluminum interconnects are interconnects made of aluminum or aluminum-based alloys. Since the invention of monolithic integrated circuit (IC) by Robert Noyce at Fairchild Semiconductor] in 1959, Al interconnects were widely used in silicon (Si) ICs until its replacement by copper interconnects during the late 1990s and early 2000s in advanced process technologies. Al was an ideal material for interconnects due to its ease of deposition and good adherence to silicon and silicon dioxide. Initially, pure aluminum was used, but due to junction spiking, Si was added to form an alloy. Later, electromigration caused reliability problems, and copper (Cu) was added to the alloy. Al interconnects are deposited by physical vapor deposition or chemical vapor deposition methods. They were originally patterned by wet etching, and later by various dry etching techniques.

Electromigration transport of material caused by the gradual movement of the ions in a conductor

Electromigration is the transport of material caused by the gradual movement of the ions in a conductor due to the momentum transfer between conducting electrons and diffusing metal atoms. The effect is important in applications where high direct current densities are used, such as in microelectronics and related structures. As the structure size in electronics such as integrated circuits (ICs) decreases, the practical significance of this effect increases.

In gallium arsenide (GaAs) ICs, which have been mainly used in application domains (e.g. monolithic microwave ICs) different to those of silicon, the predominant material used for interconnects is gold.

Gallium arsenide chemical compound

Gallium arsenide (GaAs) is a compound of the elements gallium and arsenic. It is a III-V direct bandgap semiconductor with a zinc blende crystal structure.

Monolithic microwave integrated circuit

A Monolithic Microwave Integrated Circuit, or MMIC, is a type of integrated circuit (IC) device that operates at microwave frequencies. These devices typically perform functions such as microwave mixing, power amplification, low-noise amplification, and high-frequency switching. Inputs and outputs on MMIC devices are frequently matched to a characteristic impedance of 50 ohms. This makes them easier to use, as cascading of MMICs does not then require an external matching network. Additionally, most microwave test equipment is designed to operate in a 50-ohm environment.

Gold Chemical element with atomic number 79

Gold is a chemical element with the symbol Au and atomic number 79, making it one of the higher atomic number elements that occur naturally. In its purest form, it is a bright, slightly reddish yellow, dense, soft, malleable, and ductile metal. Chemically, gold is a transition metal and a group 11 element. It is one of the least reactive chemical elements and is solid under standard conditions. Gold often occurs in free elemental (native) form, as nuggets or grains, in rocks, in veins, and in alluvial deposits. It occurs in a solid solution series with the native element silver and also naturally alloyed with copper and palladium. Less commonly, it occurs in minerals as gold compounds, often with tellurium.

Performance enhancements

To reduce the delay penalty caused by parasitic capacitance, the dielectric material used to insulate adjacent interconnects, and interconnects on different levels (the inter-level dielectric [ILD]), should have a dielectric constant that is as close to 1 as possible. A class of such materials, Low-κ dielectrics, were introduced during the late 1990s and early 2000s for this purpose. As of January 2019, the most advanced materials reduce the dielectric constant to very low levels through highly porous structures, or through the creation of substantial air or vacuum pockets (air gap dielectric). These materials often have low mechanical strength, and are restricted to the lowest level or levels of interconnect as a result. The high density of interconnects at the lower levels, along with the minimal spacing, helps support the upper layers. Intel introduced air gap dielectric in its 14 nm technology in 2014.

Parasitic capacitance, or stray capacitance is an unavoidable and usually unwanted capacitance that exists between the parts of an electronic component or circuit simply because of their proximity to each other. When two electrical conductors at different voltages are close together, the electric field between them causes electric charge to be stored on them; this effect is parasitic capacitance. All actual circuit elements such as inductors, diodes, and transistors have internal capacitance, which can cause their behavior to depart from that of 'ideal' circuit elements. Additionally, there is always non-zero capacitance between any two conductors; this can be significant at higher frequencies with closely spaced conductors, such as wires or printed circuit board traces. Parasitic capacitance is a significant problem in high frequency circuits and is often the factor limiting the operating frequency and bandwidth of electronic components and circuits.

In semiconductor manufacturing, a low-κ is a material with a small relative dielectric constant relative to silicon dioxide. Although the proper symbol for the relative dielectric constant is the Greek letter κ (kappa), in conversation such materials are referred to as being "low-k" (low-kay) rather than "low-κ" (low-kappa). Low-κ dielectric material implementation is one of several strategies used to allow continued scaling of microelectronic devices, colloquially referred to as extending Moore's law. In digital circuits, insulating dielectrics separate the conducting parts from one another. As components have scaled and transistors have gotten closer together, the insulating dielectrics have thinned to the point where charge build up and crosstalk adversely affect the performance of the device. Replacing the silicon dioxide with a low-κ dielectric of the same thickness reduces parasitic capacitance, enabling faster switching speeds and lower heat dissipation.

Vacuum Space that is empty of matter

Vacuum is space devoid of matter. The word stems from the Latin adjective vacuus for "vacant" or "void". An approximation to such vacuum is a region with a gaseous pressure much less than atmospheric pressure. Physicists often discuss ideal test results that would occur in a perfect vacuum, which they sometimes simply call "vacuum" or free space, and use the term partial vacuum to refer to an actual imperfect vacuum as one might have in a laboratory or in space. In engineering and applied physics on the other hand, vacuum refers to any space in which the pressure is lower than atmospheric pressure. The Latin term in vacuo is used to describe an object that is surrounded by a vacuum.

Multi-level interconnects

IC with complex circuits require multiple levels of interconnect to form circuits that have minimal area. As of 2018, the most complex ICs may have over 15 layers of interconnect. Each level of interconnect is separated from each other by a layer of dielectric. To make vertical connects between interconnects on different levels, vias are used. The top-most layers of a chip have the thickest and widest and most widely separated metal layers, which make the wires on those layers have the least resistance and smallest RC time constant, so they are used for power and clock distribution networks. The bottom-most metal layers of the chip, closest to the transistors, have thin, narrow, tightly-packed wires, used only for local interconnect. Adding layers can potentially improve performance, but adding layers also reduces yield and increases manufacturing cost. [1] ICs with a single metal layer typically use the polysilicon layer to "jump across" when one signal needs to cross another signal.

The process used to form DRAM capacitors creates a rough and hilly surface, which makes it difficult to add metal interconnect layers and still maintain good yield.

In 1998, state-of-the-art DRAM processes had four metal layers, while state-of-the-art logic processes had seven metal layers. [2]

In 2002, five or six layers of metal interconnect was common. [3]

In 2009, 1 Gbit DRAM typically had three layers of metal interconnect; tungsten for the first layer and aluminum for the upper layers. [4] [5]

See also

Related Research Articles

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CMOS Technology for constructing integrated circuits

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Printed circuit board Board to support and connect electronic components

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In semiconductor technology, copper interconnects are used in silicon integrated circuits (ICs) to reduce propagation delays and power consumption. Since copper is a better conductor than aluminium, ICs using copper for their interconnects can have interconnects with narrower dimensions, and use less energy to pass electricity through them. Together, these effects lead to ICs with better performance. They were first introduced by IBM, with assistance from Motorola, in 1997.

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Back end of line

The back end of line (BEOL) is the second portion of IC fabrication where the individual devices get interconnected with wiring on the wafer, the metalization layer. Common metals are copper and aluminum. BEOL generally begins when the first layer of metal is deposited on the wafer. BEOL includes contacts, insulating layers (dielectrics), metal levels, and bonding sites for chip-to-package connections.

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Atomic layer deposition

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Through-silicon via

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In microelectronics, a three-dimensional integrated circuit is an integrated circuit manufactured by stacking silicon wafers or dies and interconnecting them vertically using, for instance, through-silicon vias (TSVs) or Cu-Cu connections, so that they behave as a single device to achieve performance improvements at reduced power and smaller footprint than conventional two dimensional processes. 3D IC is just one of a host of 3D integration schemes that exploit the z-direction to achieve electrical performance benefits.

Microvias are used as the interconnects between layers in high density interconnect (HDI) substrates and printed circuit boards (PCBs) to accommodate the high input/output (I/O) density of advanced packages. Driven by portability and wireless communications, the electronics industry strives to produce affordable, light, and reliable products with increased functionality. At the electronic component level, this translates to components with increased I/Os with smaller footprint areas, and on the printed circuit board and package substrate level, to the use of high density interconnects (HDIs).

BACPAC, or the Berkeley Advanced Chip Performance Calculator, is a software program to explore the effect of changes in IC technology. The use enters a set of fairly fundamental properties of the technology and the program estimates the system level performance of an IC built with these assumptions. Previous work in this area can be found in [1] and [2], but these do not consider many of the effects of deep-sub-micrometre interconnect. BACPAC is based on the work in [3].


  1. DeMone, Paul (2004). "The Incredible Shrinking CPU".
  2. 1998. Kim, Yong-Bin; Chen, Tom W. (15 May 1996). Assessing Merged DRAM/Logic Technology (PDF). 1996 IEEE International Symposium on Circuits and Systems. Circuits and Systems Connecting the World. Atlanta, USA. pp. 133–36. doi:10.1109/ISCAS.1996.541917. Archived from the original (pdf) on 25 July 2011. Retrieved 26 July 2017.
  3. Rencz, M. (2002). "Introduction to the IC technology" (PDF).
  4. Jacob, Bruce; Ng, Spencer; Wang, David (2007). "Section 8.10.2: Comparison of DRAM-optimized process versus a logic-optimized process". Memory systems: cache, DRAM, disk. p. 376.
  5. Choi, Young (2009). "Battle commences in 50nm DRAM arena".