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 â€œinternet of thingsâ€ 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 â€œinternet of thingsâ€ 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 â€œboredâ€ 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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