How to effectively control the critical dimension (CD) is always a hot topic in photolithography. In 65nm node using phase shift mask (PSM) techniques, any factors related to CD variations should not be ignored without full investigation due to the ever-decreasing CD budget. In this paper, we focus on the local CD variation (LCDV) at the gate level within an area of 200μm x 200μm printed on a 193nm exposure tool. In contrast with AWLV (across wafer line variation) and ACLV (across chip line variation), the more localized LCDV implies that it is more dependent on the following three major factors: i) local wafer flatness mainly dominated by STI (shallow trench isolation) steps after CMP (chemical mechanical polishing); ii) effectiveness of OPC (optical proximity correction) covering all transistors with different geometrical shapes in circuit layout and iii) line edge roughness (LER) and line width roughness (LWR) related to photo and etch processes. Although OPC errors, LER and LWR are also very important, the current discussion will be limited in characterizing the relationship between LCDV and STI step-height (S-H) due to the length limitation. The STI S-H between the active surface and the trench oxide surface always exists due to the different material selectivity in the CMP process. The major gate CD influences from STI S-H are strongly correlated to the different geometrical shapes of transistors in circuits, such as single/multi-finger, wide/narrow, interior/exterior-flare and etc. According to our experiments and simulations from both alt-PSM (alternating PSM) and att-PSM (attenuating PSM) processes, the following important conclusions can be derived. a) The gate CDs in two PSM processes show different sensitivities to STI S-Hs in different geometrical shapes of transistors in circuit layout. The alt-PSM process is more sensitive than the att-PSM, especially for isolate gates. This is a shortcoming for the alt-PSM process in effectively controlling the LCDV. b) STI S-H usually makes the CD larger in both PSM processes, especially for the isolated gates in the alt-PSM process. From our observations, it is generally true that the narrower the transistor width, the higher the gate CD will be. However, CD variation trends in the att-PSM process are not so explicit as observed with alt-PSM. c) One should be very careful when trying to improve the CD uniformity by reducing STI step-height by using a blanket etch back because OPC errors are tightly combined with STI step-heights. d) Improving the STI S-H uniformity is always welcome because it will improve the AWLV. e) The narrow isolated gate is the best CD feature to monitor the interaction of AWLV with STI S-H uniformity.