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A Pentium III Autopsy Using an Electron Microscope

By - Source: SciencyStuff | B 46 comments

A 250 nm Pentium III processor may not be the most interesting piece of hardware anymore, at least if you depend on running such an antique in your computer.

However, if you have access to an electron microscope, even this old CPU can provide stunning imagery.

A science teacher examined the core of a Pentium III CPU. He removed the package via a power saw and used a scalpel to open the actual CPU cover. The interesting part begins with images that were taken using an optical microscope, enabling him to peek through the holes of the cover to see the connecting points between the CPU and the circuit board. The optical microscope took him close enough to see the different layers of the chip.

He transitioned to an electron microscope and drilled down to a level that we typically only get to see in pictures that are provided by the manufacturer itself. The examination ended at a resolution that allowed him to spot structures as small as 2000 nm, which is not close enough to actually see the transistors, but provides stunning detail of the CPU, even at a 10,000 nm level. Head over to SciencyStuff to see more pictures.

Even if we deal with CPUs on a daily basis (and the Pentium III is more than 11 years old), this is something we don't see too often.

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  • 40 Hide
    ithurtswhenipee , August 30, 2011 5:15 PM
    I love how clicking on the zoom link provides you with a picture that is about 3% larger.
  • 18 Hide
    itzdanielp , August 30, 2011 5:20 PM
    Wow, those are some incredible shots. Boggles my mind how chips can even be manufactured at the sizes they are currently... 0_0
Other Comments
  • 40 Hide
    ithurtswhenipee , August 30, 2011 5:15 PM
    I love how clicking on the zoom link provides you with a picture that is about 3% larger.
  • 18 Hide
    itzdanielp , August 30, 2011 5:20 PM
    Wow, those are some incredible shots. Boggles my mind how chips can even be manufactured at the sizes they are currently... 0_0
  • -5 Hide
    amk-aka-Phantom , August 30, 2011 5:21 PM
    This is interesting, but seeing a CPU being sawed... it somehow tortures me from the inside.

    Quote:
    A 250 nm Pentium III processor may not be the most interesting piece of hardware anymore


    Cool story. I've been looking for one of those for 2 years by now to stuff into my old PC instead of a Celeron... just for the hell of it. Can't get them in the store, no one has one to give away and don't want to deal with ebay. Out of luck, I guess.
  • 1 Hide
    Hellbound , August 30, 2011 5:27 PM
    I still have an 800mhz P3 that still works.
  • 4 Hide
    silverblue , August 30, 2011 5:28 PM
    The P3 is more related to current Intel CPUs than the P4 is, so it's not completely without merit.
  • 6 Hide
    nforce4max , August 30, 2011 5:40 PM
    250nm? That is incorrect once again people these days need to do their proper research. That is the Coppermine version and is 180nm not 250nm that is the older Katmai that has the external l2 cache. Kamai was only slot one while the Coppermine version can in socket 370 and slot one, the one in pic is the socket 370 version. The last was the Tualatin 130nm series and often had an advantage over most early p4 Willamette cpu-s.
  • 5 Hide
    BSMonitor , August 30, 2011 5:50 PM
    just for the hell of it. Can't get them in the store, no one has one to give away and don't want to deal with ebay. Out of luck, I guess.


    So you'd pay an insane premium at a store for Pentium III, but not deal with eBay?

    LMFAO
  • 0 Hide
    chickenhoagie , August 30, 2011 5:51 PM
    amk-aka-phantomThis is interesting, but seeing a CPU being sawed... it somehow tortures me from the inside.Cool story. I've been looking for one of those for 2 years by now to stuff into my old PC instead of a Celeron... just for the hell of it. Can't get them in the store, no one has one to give away and don't want to deal with ebay. Out of luck, I guess.

    we have them also:)  all the way back to the original Pentium chips

    www.atrecycle.com
  • 1 Hide
    mrmotion , August 30, 2011 5:52 PM
    just junked a pII about a month ago. Still worked, used to play Wolfenstien and Commander Keen on it.
  • -1 Hide
    Kamab , August 30, 2011 5:56 PM
    Can't you view something that is 2um in size with an optical microscope pretty easily? What was the electron microscope for?
  • 0 Hide
    amk-aka-Phantom , August 30, 2011 6:13 PM
    mrmotionjust junked a pII about a month ago. Still worked, used to play Wolfenstien and Commander Keen on it.


    Commander Keen was a GREAT game.

    BSMonitorSo you'd pay an insane premium at a store for Pentium III, but not deal with eBay? LMFAO


    Of course not. Some stores can be reasonable on old tech.
  • 5 Hide
    mikem_90 , August 30, 2011 6:24 PM
    KamabCan't you view something that is 2um in size with an optical microscope pretty easily? What was the electron microscope for?


    I'm pretty sure you can't. There is a limit with optical microscopes, one being that normal light's own wavelength is much wider than that.

    Intel had to deal with this when it was trying to shrink CPUs even smaller. They were wanting to etch smaller than typical visible light wavelengths. So they moved to UV, extreme UV... which have smaller wavelengths and thus a better resolution, all to get it smaller and smaller.
  • 1 Hide
    Chicano , August 30, 2011 6:30 PM
    You havent been looking in the right places!!! I have a Coppermine (180 nm) 850MHz pc100/133 among my old stuff.. it's in perfect working order but I guess you want the 250nm 450mhz? Well those are still around in latinamerica at cheap prices... http://computacion.mercadolibre.com.ar/procesadores-pentium-iii/ Language barrier? click on google translate. I'm sure you could work something out with the seller and probably in english.. most people browsing the net these days understand some english and can communicate with you by any means if they have to...
  • -1 Hide
    Kamab , August 30, 2011 6:41 PM
    mikem_90I'm pretty sure you can't. There is a limit with optical microscopes, one being that normal light's own wavelength is much wider than that. Intel had to deal with this when it was trying to shrink CPUs even smaller. They were wanting to etch smaller than typical visible light wavelengths. So they moved to UV, extreme UV... which have smaller wavelengths and thus a better resolution, all to get it smaller and smaller.


    I only asked because I work in optical probes, which typically have worse optics than that of a scientific microscope, and we have meaningful resolution down to a micron. Electron microscopes can view structures more on the order of pm, right?
  • 0 Hide
    JohnnyLucky , August 30, 2011 7:01 PM
    Cool article. Amazing images.
  • 0 Hide
    Nnymrod , August 30, 2011 7:17 PM
    I'm sure alot of people in the US have older CPUs laying around... I have a Pentium II, Pentium III, and an AMD K6-500. Also try looking at old junked school computers or other small low budget businesses.
  • 2 Hide
    Martell77 , August 30, 2011 7:48 PM
    I still have the Intel 486 DX2 66mhz chip from my first computer. I'll never forget the specs 486-66 (8mhz without Turbo!), 512kb Paradise Western Digital Video Card, 256mb hard drive, 8mb ram, Sound Blaster 8-bit, and Windows of Workgroups 3.1 on top of DOS 6.22.

    I remember having to uninstall my Moms Wordperfect and Print Shop so I could fit my MechWarrior 2 game on it (took 110mb). That really used to tick her off, lol.

    Really is interesting to see part of the evolution like this, they should call me if they want to see inside a 486 chip.
  • 0 Hide
    legacy7955 , August 30, 2011 7:54 PM
    Yes, very cool stuff.

    It would be nice if the photos were better though.

    I'd actually like to see Tom's do a piece on the manufacturing processes involved with producing chips like this in detail. It is really fascinating stuff.
  • -1 Hide
    DSpider , August 30, 2011 8:09 PM
    I bet it was fully functional too, because processors don't fry very often. In fact, it's the motherboard that dies and the platform becoming harder and harder to find, sometimes even extinct.

    I still have an Athlon XP 2200+ (1.8 GHz, socket A) bought in 2003 or so, but with no motherboard to use it on. :(  Would be perfect for Linux and such... Too bad. Guess I'll keep it as a reminder of my first computer. Also, I think I'll buy 2 more AM3 motherboards, which will probably last me 12+ years from now (given a decent PSU with basic short-circuit protections).
  • -2 Hide
    FloKid , August 30, 2011 8:43 PM
    Pretty soon you'll see reversed engineered P3's on the black market.
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