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 Semiconductor Electromigration In-Depth
By: Sverre Sjøthun, July 24, 2001  Print this article


A chip's design is tested for environmental stresses such as temperature and humidity before being released to production, and this testing includes electromigration testing. Because of this testing, electromigration is not really an issue to "normal" chip users

Overclocked chips are not running within normal operating specifications and thus because of the higher voltages / temperatures run a higher risk of electromigration than chips running at normal specifications.

There is no data available to show exactly how much of an increased effect this will have on chip lifetime. But we can assume, taking into account all the additional stresses of running at increased clock frequencies, that voltages and temperatures that the lifetime will be reduced perhaps by a factor of 10 to 100 times that of a "normal" chip.

For normal users of microchips, electromigration is not an issue, especially with the new copper chips that are being released to the market. However, for people who are overclocking their chips, one thing becomes clear: The higher the temperature and voltage within the conductor, the faster the metal atoms will move, and the faster the chip will fail due to electromigration. There is not much we can do about this, as there is really only one factor we can change - the temperature.

If we lower the temperature for the chip, we lower the energy of the atoms within the interconnects of the chip. This means that it takes a lot more energy to get the metal atoms to move and hence the possibilities of electromigration to occur are significantly reduced.

Thanks to Richard Cooper at Canon Europe N.V. for providing me with information

Sverre Sjøthun

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