Is 28nm the end of Moore’s Law’s 50-year march?

Article By : Zvi Or-Bach

The industry is at a crossroads: some designs pursue scaling to 7nm while the majority stay on 28nm or older nodes.

As we have predicted more than two years back, the industry is bifurcating, and just a few products pursue scaling to 7nm while the majority of designs stay on 28nm or older nodes.

Our 2014 blog, "28nm—The Last Node of Moore's Law," has now been confirmed. At the time we wrote: “After the 28nm node, we can continue to make transistors smaller, but not cheaper.” It is illustrated in the following slide, presented by Samsung at the recent Semicon West 2016.

[EETI Moore's Law 01]

Intel did announce that going forward, the time between nodes will increase but it still claims it can keep reducing transistors cost. Yet Intel’s underwhelming successes as a foundry suggest otherwise. We have discussed it in a blog titled, "Intel—The Litmus Test," and it was essentially repeated in Apple will NEVER use Intel Custom Foundry<img alt=" “Yes, Intel will argue that their 10nm and 7nm are better than the foundries (TSMC and Samsung) but that will have to be proven at the chip level which is based on PPAC (power, performance, area, AND cost). The foundries have beaten Intel at every node based on SoC PPAC and I do not expect that to change at 10nm or 7nm.”

This discussion seems academic now, as the actual engineering costs of devices in advanced nodes have shown themselves to be too expensive for much of the industry. Consequently, and as predicted, the industry is bifurcating, and few products pursue scaling to 7nm while the majority of designs use 28nm or older nodes.

The following chart derived from TSMC quarterly earnings reports was published last week by Ed Sperling in the blog, "Stepping Back From Scaling":

[EETI Moore's Law 02]

Yes, the 50-year march of Moore’s’ Law has ended, and the industry is now facing a new reality.

Similar industry dynamic has also been shown in a blog by Mentor, "Established Technology Nodes: The Most Popular Kid at the Dance." Key quote:

“Designs at 65nm and larger still account for approximately 43% of all wafer production and 48% of wafer fab capacity. Even more significant, nodes 65nm and larger account for approximately 85% of all design starts (see charts below, source: VLSI Research). Clearly, established nodes are not fading away any time soon.”

[EETI Moore's Law 03]

This is good news for innovation, as a diversity of choices helps support new ideas and new technologies such as 3D NAND, FDSOI, MEMS and others. These technologies will enable new products for the emerging market of IoT.

A good conference to learn more about these new scaling technologies is the IEEE S3S ’16, held in the Hyatt Regency San Francisco Airport, October 10th thru 13th, 2016. CEA Leti is scheduled to give an update on their CoolCube program, Qualcomm will present some of their work on monolithic 3D, and three leading researchers from imec, MIT, and Korea universities collaboration will present their work on advanced monolithic 3D integration technologies, and many other authors will discuss their work on monolithic 3DIC and its ecosystem, in addition to tracks focused on SOI, sub-VT and dedicated sessions on IoT.

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