Shrinking chips challenge Moore's Law

Intel will continue to fulfill Moore's Law for the foreseeable future, but the challenge of keeping up with it is growing as chips get smaller, says a company executive.

Intel will continue to fulfill Moore's Law for the foreseeable future, but keeping up with it is becoming more of a challenge as chips get smaller, according to a company executive.

Moore's Law states that the number of transistors that can be placed on silicon doubles every two years, making it possible to continually improve chip performance and add new functionality. Using Moore's Law as a baseline, Intel for decades has added transistors while reducing the size and cost of its chips.

"I'm not here to tell you that I know what's going to happen 10 years from now. This is much too complicated," said William Holt, an Intel executive vice president and general manager of the company's Technology Manufacturing Group, in a recent speech. But, at least for the next few generations of chip manufacturing processes, "we are confident we don't see the end coming," he added.

Moore's Law is based on an observation in a 1965 paper by Gordon Moore, who co-founded Intel in 1968. It has held true for years, but Holt said that manufacturing smaller chips with more features is difficult. "There are just more steps, and each one of those steps needs additional effort to optimize," he said.

To keep up with Moore's Law, Intel has turned to new tools and innovations. For example, the company started using strained silicon with the 90-nanometer and 65nm manufacturing processes, and then introduced gate-oxide material -- also called high-k metal gate -- to the 45nm and 32nm processes.

Further reducing chip sizes will require new ideas, and many new ideas are being put to the test in university research funded by chip makers and semiconductor industry associations, Holt said.

Some of the ideas revolve around the feasibility of replacing silicon with new materials. For example, he said, "using germanium instead of silicon is certainly a possibility that is being researched."

This version of this story was originally published in Computerworld's print edition. It was adapted from an article that appeared earlier on

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This story, "Shrinking chips challenge Moore's Law" was originally published by Computerworld.

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