How long has the semiconductor industry got?

August 19, 2021 // By Nick Flaherty
How long has the semiconductor industry got?
An analysis by two environmental scientists predicts that the semiconductor has at least two more ‘innovation cycles’ for transistor shrinking before fundamental change is needed

The death of Moore’s Law has been predicted many times, and the slowing of process technology at the 3nm, 2nm and 1nm nodes is a challenge for the industry.

Biostatistician David Burg and environmental researcher Jesse Ausubel have looked at the evolution of the semiconductor industry since the first transistor using biological analysis. They see ten year cycles, with six so far, and at least two more.

Gordon Moore famously observed that the number of transistors in integrated circuits increases exponentially, doubling every 12–24 months. The increase covers two related factors, the integration of larger numbers of transistors and transistor miniaturization. Growth in the number of transistors per unit area, or chip density, allows examination of the evolution with a single measure.

The academics took the sigmoidal S-curves used for population nalaysis and applied this to Intel’s semiconductor roadmap since the days of Fairchild. They found that the density of Intel processors between 1959 and 2013 are consistent with a biphasic sigmoidal curve with characteristic times of 9.5 years. During each stage, transistor density increased at least tenfold within approximately six years, followed by at least three years with negligible growth rates.

“It is clear that technological evolution, hypothesized here to include transistor miniaturization, is discontinuous and that new designs and processes are distributed unevenly through time in 'innovation waves'. Technological evolution frequently displays these more complex kinetics with a tendency to saturate because of constraining factors, and this pattern is also reported for semiconductor performance,” they said.

“Recently, a new definition of transistor density has been suggested, and we propose to reexamine processor evolution by examining growth in the number of transistors per unit area, accounting for changes in chip size.”

Next: The evolution of Moore's Law 


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