Intel and AMD are ready to start serious work on producing processors using the thinnest wires ever, at just 0.13 microns.

This will eventually lead to PCs running at 4GHz by 2002 - quite a jump from today's 1.5GHz machines. But the 0.13 micron machines of the future will not be based on silicon; instead, copper will be the metal of choice.

AMD also has a roadmap (industry-speak for 'a plan') to produce 0.13 micron processors. Codenamed Thoroughbred and Appaloosa, AMD’s chips should be in production at the same time as Intel's.

Chips are manufactured on wafers, large discs of silicon, that have hundreds of chips printed on them. The larger the wafer, the more chips can be made from it. Intel currently uses a 200mm wafer, but has now made a 300mm version. That translates to more chips per wafer, which in turn should mean cheaper chips.

In a statement on Monday, Intel confirmed that the techniques used to make the wafer are slated to be introduced into the company product line in early 2002.

To illustrate the projected evolution of the chips, Intel said the Pentium III, a 0.25 micron chip, ran at about 600MHz. The Pentium 4, a 0.18 micron chip runs at up to 1.5GHz now, and will hit 2GHz by the end of the year. But the 0.13 micron chips are likely to run as fast as 3GHz to 4GHz in the next year or two.