The properties of the so-called time dependent dielectric breakdown (TDDB) of silicon dioxide-based gate dielectric for microelectronics technology have been investigated and reviewed. Experimental data covering a wide range of oxide thickness, stress voltage, temperature, and for the two bias polarities were gathered using structures with a wide range of gate oxide areas, and over very long stress times. Thickness dependence of oxide breakdown was shown to be in excellent agreement with statistical models founded in the percolation theory which explain the drastic reduction of the time-to-breakdown with decreasing oxide thickness. The voltage dependence of time-to-breakdown was found to follow a power-law behavior rather than an exponential law as commonly assumed. Our investigation on the inter-relationship between voltage and temperature dependencies of oxide breakdown reveals that a strong temperature activation with non-Arrhenius behavior is consistent with the power-law voltage dependence. The power-law voltage dependence in combination with strong temperature activation provides the most important reliability relief in compensation for the strong decrease of time-to-breakdown resulting from the reduction of the oxide thickness. Using the maximum energy of injected electrons at the anode interface as breakdown variable, we have resolved the polarity gap of time- and charge-to-breakdown (TBD and QBD), confirming that the fluency and the electron energy at anode interface are the fundamental quantities controlling oxide breakdown. Combining this large database with a recently proposed cell-based analytical version of the percolation model, we extract the defect generation efficiency responsible for breakdown. Following a review of different breakdown mechanisms and models, we discuss how the release of hydrogen through the coupling between vibrational and electronic degrees of freedom can explain the power-law dependence of defect generation efficiency. On the basis of these results, a unified and global picture of oxide breakdown is constructed and the resulting model is applied to project reliability limits. In this regard, it is concluded that SiO2-based dielectrics can provide reliable gate dielectric, even to a thickness of 1 nm, and that CMOS scaling may well be viable for the 50 nm technology node. © 2005 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.