Everyone is somewhat focused on the march of process nodes. Moore’s Law, although I think that with the breach between technology and cost that may be changing. Moore’s Law was about the lowest cost way to get a given number of transistors manufactured. But now the lowest cost and the highest density are diverging. But the race for the next process generation is still a race. Plus there is a different (or maybe the same) race for the lowest cost transistors.
Intel went for 22nm with FinFET transistors but little double patterning, TSMC went for 20nm with planar transistors and double patterning. Samsung skipped it. Everyone else was an also-ran. Next generation was 16nm as TSMC called it or 14nm as Intel and Samsung called it. Products are shipping, tapeouts are happening, it is real. GF licensed Samsung and is ramping. So GF, Samsung, Intel and TSMC are in production (although Intel is barely a foundry despite having a foundry business line).
But the reality is that nothing is real until it is in volume. When you are shipping 50,000 300mm wafers a month then it is a process. The 16nm race is still on, and the 10nm race is starting.
But there is a race after that. For 7nm. I was at imec’s forum a couple of weeks ago and they are focused on races even later that that. What are we going to do? Taller fins, gate all round, nanowires, vertical nanowires, III/V materials, spin stuff, optical.
Today IBM announced 7nm chips. In the New York Times, not Electronic Engineering Times. As they said:IBM said on Thursday that it had made working versions of ultradense computer chips, with roughly four times the capacity of today’s most powerful chips.
I’m not sure as I would go as far as John Markoff (whose NYT byline the article is under):The development lifts a bit of the cloud that has fallen over the semiconductor industry, which has struggled to maintain its legendary pace of doubling transistor density every two years.
The reason is price. I know we can probably make 5nm carbon nanotubes work if we put enough effort into it. But it needs to be cheaper too. Otherwise we’ll all stick at 28nm. Which, to be honest, is a pretty good process. Good density, low cost, power not as good as FinFET but OK, leakage a problem but manageable, analog easier to design, even digital easier to design. Once the equipment is all depreciated then 16/14nm may end up be cheaper (and I mean in cost, not just price) but 28nm is a “long lived process” as many people have said.
Another weird thing. You probably know that IBM just closed the deal to sell their semiconductor manufacturing business to GlobalFoundries. So why are they doing research on 7nm anyway? I have no idea since I don’t know the details of the GF/IBM relationship. GF said in their recent announcement about the closure of the deal that they have access to the $3B that IBM is investing in semiconductor research. But if IBM is getting out of semiconductor manufacturing, why are they investing heavily in its underlying technology? I will try and find out.
The NYT even has an opinion on EUV (as I do, I have a zillion blogs on the subject):It must also grapple with the shift to using extreme ultraviolet, or EUV, light to etch patterns on chips at a resolution that approaches the diameter of individual atoms. In the past, Intel said it could see its way toward seven-nanometer manufacturing. But it has not said when that generation of chip making might arrive.
Well, in the industry we know the answer to that is 7nm. Which means EUV has to work next year or so for qualification to take place. After 7nm it needs double patterning (EUV is 13.5nm wavelength). It is too late for 10nm for most foundries to be inserted now. And Intel has publicly said 10nm is not EUV dependent.
I love to think about what the average hipster in Brooklyn is making about the details, reading her morning newspaper:The company said on Thursday that it had working samples of chips with seven-nanometer transistors. It made the research advance by using silicon-germanium instead of pure silicon in key regions of the molecular-size switches.
Nanometer. Germanium. I’ll have another non-fat latte. What’s the WiFi password?
John Markoff’s NYT article is here.