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Saturday, April 16, 2005

Moore's Law Due For Retirement

(Via Forbes) Arik Hesseldahl writes,"Gordon Moore argued that the number of transistors which could be economically built on a chip tended to double every year".Earlier,the most advanced chips had about 50 transistors, but he argued it would be economical to build chips with 65,000 transistors by 1975,today the complexities and expense involved with keeping Moore’s law on track are enormous.The most advanced chips may not be needed to handle computing tasks for which there is the most demand. The most advanced chips currently being manufactured have elements 90 nanometers in size, and by the end of the year, smaller chips with 65-nanometer elements will come to market. Chip manufacturers tend to upgrade their manufacturing technology every two years or so. Smaller transistors can be crowded in greater numbers onto ever-small slices of silicon, increasing the amount of work a chip can do. Recent advances in chip manufacturing have slowed that effect, but the problem becomes more complex and expensive at the smaller sizes, and the upgrade cycle may go upto three years form two. Designing chips with elements smaller than 32 nanometers will require some radical changes in how chips are built. Today lasers etch circuitry directly on wafers of silicon through a series of lenses and masks that act a little like a stencil in a process called "deep ultraviolet lithography." Making chips with smaller elements will require a massive shift to a new manufacturing method called "extreme ultraviolet lithography," in which the laser is reflected off a series of mirrors to create wavelengths of light so fine they can only be produced in a vacuum. Moving to EUVL technology will require substantial changes to such things as work flow, and are complex and expensive.
The most advanced chips account for the smallest number of chips sold by volume. Semico Research, a research firm says that 78% of chips sold last year were manufactured on three-year old process technologies of 180 nanometers or higher. Barely 11% of the chips sold in 2005 will be of the 90-nanometer variety. And by 2015, typical consumers may find by their personal computers won't need the very best chips that money can buy. PCs already have more than enough smarts to handle standard tasks like e-mail and word processing. New applications like video will require more power, but that may be addressed through wider spread use of high-speed broadband Internet connections. And much of the computing tasks handled by PCs are increasingly handled by other devices like wireless phones. Chips used in handheld devices usually lag the leading edge by a generation or two, and they don't necessarily need to be shrunk every year to two to remain cost-effective. Moore’s law at 50 years age is slated for retirement.

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