Intel Plans to Get the Lead Out of CPUs

Chipmaker Intel has announced that its future processors will be entirely free of lead, a move which reduced the environmental impact of both manufacturing and recycling/reclaiming materials from the chips once they’ve reached the end of their life cycles. Intel says its entire family of 45 nm Hi-k processors—including the Core 2 Duo, Core 2 Quad, and Xeon processors—will be lead-free when they begin production in the second half of 2007. Intel plans to extend the lead-free manufacturing process to its 65 nm chips in 2008.

“Intel is taking an aggressive stance toward environmental sustainability, from the elimination of lead and a focus on greater energy efficiency of our products to fewer air emissions and more water and materials recycling,” said Nasser Grayeli, Intel’s VP and director of assembly test technology development, in a release. The company has been working to reduce and eliminate lead from its products for a number of years, and has reduced the amount of lead in its processor products by 95 percent. With the current announcement, the company will eliminate lead from its processor products altogether. Intel plans to replace the lead solder remaining in its products with an alloy of tin, silver, and copper.

Although lead isn’t an integral material to the CPU chips themselves, it is used in several “packages” which envelop a chip and connect it to a system board. Package designs var between platforms, with pin grid arrays, land grid arrays, and ball grid arrays being the most common. Developing and deploying a replacement for the last of the lead solder apparently posed significant engineering and manufacturing challenges.

Historically, lead has been used in a wide variety of electronic applications due to its malleability, resistance to corrosion, and poor conductivity (making it a good insulator). However, the metal has significant environmental and public health impacts; lead poisoning can damage nerve connections and impair cognitive function and development, especially in children.

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