Chips reaching their limits as smartphones progress

Chips reaching their limits as smartphones progress
The semi-conductor business, for all its progress, is a balancing act. The industry, from AMD to Xilinx, advances their product lines and specifications at a blinding speed, sometimes exceeding the spirit of “Moore’s Law” which basically states, that the number of transistors on integrated circuits doubles about every two years. Certainly in some cases, we have seen this technology advance at an exponential rate. This law applies in the context of miniaturization as well.

Research and development of such technology incurs significant costs as well, leading to the idea of “Moore’s second law," which said that the cost of a semiconductor fabrication plant also increases exponentially over time.

The manufacturing process for these chip-sets is refined every time a new, more powerful, yet smaller chip design must be fabricated. Chip manufacturers often need to overcome some obstacles when designing a new fabricating a chip with more and more transistors on each wafer of silicon. The current photographic process that is currently used is not expected to be able to keep up with design demands in the coming years.

Manufacturers have been developing a new fabrication technique called extreme ultraviolet (EUV) lithography, but the process is not ready for mass production at the anticipated demands. Current lithography technology uses light to create the images needed to fabricate the patterns of circuitry. However, the features in these patterns are getting so small, normal wavelengths of light are larger than the desired definition (think of trying to draw a thin line with a fat-tip marker).

EUV provides that “fine-tip,” but its development has presented obstacles for the manufacturers. Using these rays of light must be done in a vacuum, using mirrors. Without getting too technical, it requires precision, and current production rates are about 30% of what is expected to be needed.

In case EUV does not pan out, another approach is being looked at. Called directed self assembly (DSA), this method uses chemical combinations to build the superfine patterns on the chip. This may also assist in arresting the manufacturing costs in the future which one would hope means less expensive cost to build the final devices. As it is, it looks like a lot of companies are betting on EUV. High volume output with these new methods should be achieved sometime in 2014.

What does this mean for smartphones? As manufacturers of these devices create leaner designs, with more features built in, they demand smaller integrated circuits with more processing power. So, in a few years when you are eyeing that snazzy new 8-core, super-speed MHz device, you may have just a bit of appreciation for the microscopic work that went into the brain of that beast.

source: Wall Street Journal



1. MeoCao unregistered

so we'll move on to quantum technology.

2. nicholassss

Posts: 368; Member since: May 10, 2012

Good read.

5. SuperAndroidEvo

Posts: 4888; Member since: Apr 15, 2011

YES GREAT READ! I love technology & the way everything moves make me even more curious on what devices my 4 year old son will have to play with when he finally hits 20 years old. lol

11. gaby1451

Posts: 119; Member since: Mar 30, 2011

Wow! So are you 20yrs old, or was that just a random number? If so, young dad ey? :-)

3. Lwazi_N

Posts: 205; Member since: Jun 23, 2011

Maybe I should move from researching about nanocomposite membranes for water treatment and into this field... Looks kinda exciting! I think the more research that goes into the EUV lithography and DSA, the quicker we can catch up- maybe not at the rate we'd like but it would be a great leap forward.

4. neutralguy

Posts: 1152; Member since: Apr 30, 2012

This is true. Now the next thing would be improving battery consumption in those superfast processors.

6. mafiaprinc3

Posts: 585; Member since: May 07, 2012

battery consumption is critical as with software optimization, i think they go hand in hand

7. Lawliet

Posts: 160; Member since: Jul 02, 2012

Why don't we take the attention on making better chips, and change that to making better batteries ?

8. -box-

Posts: 3991; Member since: Jan 04, 2012

Both are being done simultaneously. Look how much power is coming out of devices now: the Galaxy Note 2, which fits in your pocket, has a battery with more than 3000 mAh, which bests the battery in my 5-year-old laptop by 500mAh, and which doesn't fit in my pocket.

10. dragonstkdgirl

Posts: 144; Member since: Apr 07, 2012

The Galaxy Note 2 may fit in your pocket, but sure doesn't fit in mine. :o(

9. OpTiMuS_BlAcK

Posts: 418; Member since: May 04, 2012

Hopefully there will be Intel Atom with i7 features :D

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