Is it the end of Moore` s Law? (part 2)

Moore ` Law

At first, we need to ask ourselves why Moore` s Law should continue and what would be the possible future applications of ICs with tens or hundreds of times the computing power of today.

The current wave of smartphones and tablets already makes use of increasing quantities of raw computing power, but, according to analysts, many new applications are waiting out there: the “internet of things” buzz is now becoming louder.

The idea that buildings, roads, infrastructure, planes, cars could be all interconnected together to create a new virtual universe where all conditions and parameters can be monitored 24/7/365 is here and will require an enormous amount of computing power and new forms of integration of logic and analog into a single die.

MEMS (or micro-mechanical systems) are systems that integrate logic and analog circuitry into one single die and are already being developed and produced in industrial quantities right now but their scope of application is still limited to the gaming, automobile, medical and few other markets.

A new paradigm shift is needed before this concept can be applied to a broader range of infrastructure, however the building blocks are already here. As for the requirements in increase of computing power that such “internet of things” is likely to demand, the currently die-shrinking approach is likely to bring us only so far.

While the current scaling may continue for at least another 5 to 10 years, once the half-pitch will be in the whereabouts of 7nm to 5nm there will probably be no way to move forward with the current CMOS technology and alternatives such as nanotubes, new materials like graphene, completely new approaches to scaling like spintronics and 3D stacking are currently being explored.

Each one of the above alternatives holds enormous potential for the future of ICs.

Nanotubes can be fabricated at dimensions of few nanometers, graphene-manufactured ICs have less thermal issues than silicon and therefore can be stacked more easily and can reach frequencies of hundreds of GHzs.

Spintronics is a completely revolutionary technology that uses the spin of electrons instead of transistors to store and manipulate information

But in the shorter term, 3D stacking is the technology, or the family of technologies, that is more likely to bring some extra breathing room to Moore`s Law.

3D stacking is based on a simple idea: instead of keeping ICs as planar, they can be stacked one over the other therefore reducing the average distance between two points in the structure.

Currently, we are still at the beginning of this approach and the first applications in NAND stacking are being offered now.

3D stacking has quite some hurdles to be overcome, the main ones being thermal dissipation and the still high costs of TSVs (through silicon vias, that is the vias that are “bored” through the structure to allow communication between different planes)

At the moment 3D stacking is still in its infancy, but when it will be applied to ICs and SoC (system on chips) it will give additional breathe to Moore`s Law.

What will happen after that, remains to be seen.

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Is it the end of Moore` s Law? (part 1)

Moore ` Law

It is about twenty years, that is, since about when I started to become seriously interested in microelectronics and IC lithography, that I have heard this question from time to time: is Moore`s Law coming to an end?

And, if not then, until when will it last?

I still remember the old days in which researchers and “pundits” assured us that there would have been no way IC lithography could go beyond 0.1μm.

At first, let`s think what it would mean for the whole electronics industry if the current trend over continuous miniaturization of transistors would come to an end

Entire portions of the software industry and of the internet market have benefited, if not completely depended upon, the exponential growth of computing power we have witnessed in the last 40 years.

It is likely that such industries, along with others like the gaming industry, will be badly affected if Moore` s Law loses steam.

So, the question is: Is Moore` s Law anywhere close to the end?

From many points of view it is clear that the famous trend of keeping the number of circuits doubling every two years is becoming increasingly difficult and requires at every node a revolutionary, not just an evolutionary, approach as it happened in the recent past

A recent example of such radical innovations is the change from planar CMOS to FinFet architectures .

Even more recently, there has been much talk about moving away from silicon to overcome some of the major obstacles for further die shrinking and die stacking

Simple and brute force die shrinking is due to end soon as quantum tunneling is already starting to influence physical properties of transistors at the 10nm and would probably hinder any further progression at the 7nm node or 5nm node at best.

And even if, in principle, quantum tunneling effects could be included in the design of the IC so that they would not necessarily cause a disruption, simple economic considerations would put an halt to Moore` s Law.

Only one or two decades ago, a new state-of-the-art IC fab would have cost few hundreds of millions of US$, now we are in the range of US$4 billion for a new fab.

If the trend continues, we will soon be in the whereabouts of $10 billion per new fab. Very few governments, and no company, can invest such amount of money for a single fab. [to be continued]

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