SAN JOSE, Calif., Feb. 15 /PRNewswire-FirstCall/ -- KLA-Tencor (Nasdaq: KLAC) today unveiled its next-generation photomask inspection system, STARlight-2(TM), providing wafer fabs with the most cost-effective contamination inspection solution in the industry for all types of photomasks, including mainstream extreme resolution enhancement technique (XRET) photomasks, at the 65-nm node and below. It does so by leveraging revolutionary image processing technology compared to the previous-generation and industry-standard STARlight, which, since its introduction in 1993, has seen nearly 160 placements in wafer fabs and 175 placements in mask shops globally. The system's enhanced inspection capabilities are especially designed for the detection of progressive defects -- an increasingly critical class of yield killers that significantly impact device yield over time and can cause catastrophic device reliability problems. With STARlight-2, wafer fabs can implement a highly efficient, cost-effective photomask requalification strategy that enables them to maximize production yields by maximizing the size of the window in their advanced lithographic processes. "Our wafer fab customers' investment in infrastructure and time is exponentially higher with the increased adoption of immersion lithography and XRETs," said Harold Lehon, vice president and general manager of KLA-Tencor's Reticle and Photomask Inspection Division (RAPID). "Consequently, they are more focused than ever on accelerating their time to profitability. STARlight-2 provides the timely information that our customers need to make yield-critical decisions and speed their production ramps. The system's wide range of capabilities enables customers to create highly flexible photomask requalification strategies to meet their dynamic manufacturing requirements, and eliminate unnecessary rework and cycle time delays." Process challenges today include more than just zero-yield occurrences. Chipmakers are challenged by more gradual yield roll-off that deprives them of the highest performance and profit parts. Crystal growth, haze and other progressive defects that cause this problem are escalating, and no solution exists to address them completely. These contaminants form on photomasks from a variety of sources within the mask shop and wafer fab environments. Over time, they grow and multiply as the photomask undergoes constant lithographic exposure, reducing the lithography process window more and more. This phenomenon increases the risk of devices not meeting performance specifications and having serious reliability problems. The combination of 193-nm lithography and 300-mm wafer processing further exacerbates progressive defects since the photomasks endure longer periods of exposure at higher energy -- creating an ideal incubator for these contaminants. In addition to finding these elusive defects before they collapse the lithography process window entirely, the revolutionary design of STARlight-2 provides the capabilities needed to meet all of the challenges associated with 65-nm designs, including new XRET strategies and the increase in feature packing density. With STARlight-2, customers are not forced to rely on other requalification strategies that put chip yields at risk or result in unnecessary rework and cycle time delays. Its smaller pixel sizes (125nm and 90nm) provide the resolution and sensitivity needed to detect mask contaminants on device layers with the smallest pattern features before they affect the process window or worse, print on the wafer. STARlight-2's improved algorithms also enable contamination detection in high-density patterned areas, which are typically found on XRET masks, and its full-field inspection capability allows inspection in scribes and borders -- where progressive defects generally first emerge -- as well as on both single-die and multi-die photomasks. All these capabilities are achieved while still maintaining the benchmark speed of KLA-Tencor's previous-generation STARlight platforms. KLA-Tencor will showcase its latest yield management and process control products, including the STARlight-2, at SPIE Microlithography 2006 (Booth 1013) from Feb. 21 to Feb. 22 at the San Jose Convention Center in San Jose, Calif. STARlight-2 is available now. About KLA-Tencor: KLA-Tencor is the world leader in yield management and process control solutions for semiconductor manufacturing and related industries. Headquartered in San Jose, Calif., the company has sales and service offices around the world. An S&P 500 company, KLA-Tencor is traded on the Nasdaq National Market under the symbol KLAC. Additional information about the company is available on the Internet at http://www.kla-tencor.com . NOTE: STARlight-2 is a trademark of KLA-Tencor.