Electron beam lithography systems have historically had low throughput. The only practical solution to this limitation is an approach using many beams writing simultaneously. For single-column multi-beam systems, including projection optics (SCALPELR and PREVAIL) and blanked aperture arrays, throughput and resolution are limited by space-charge effects. Multibeam micro-column (one beam per column) systems are limited by the need for low voltage operation, electrical connection density and fabrication complexities. In this paper, we discuss a new multi-beam concept employing multiple columns each with multiple beams to generate a very large total number of parallel writing beams. This overcomes the limitations of space-charge interactions and low voltage operation. We also discuss a rationale leading to the optimum number of columns and beams per column. Using this approach we show how production throughputs >= 60 wafers per hour can be achieved at CDs <EQ 100 nm, independent of both wafer diameter and die size. The Cost-of-Ownership (CoO) advantages of direct-write (maskless) lithography are significant especially for small-volume semiconductor fabrication, for example ASICs, SOCs and MPUs.© (2000) COPYRIGHT SPIE--The International Society for Optical Engineering. Downloading of the abstract is permitted for personal use only.