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Subject: Introducing "No-Moore's Law"

Author: Steve J

Date: 09:03:42 02/26/03

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>5.  I am also looking for some predictions/information about processor speed in
>20-30 years from now.  For micro's Moore's law still holds.  So 21 years is 7
>doublings of speed or 128 times as fast as today.

   I've spent 25 years in manufacturing side of the semiconductor industry and
would like to introduce what I call "No-Moore's Law".  It describes the physical
limitations that silicon (or any other compound) will run out of gas and can be
shrunk no more.  It also talks about some of the financial limitations of
shrinking die.

  There are several key points.  1) There are physical limitations to what
degree a transistor size can be shrunk.  This is based on the size of the atom,
and 2) There are exponential increases in the costs of fabs and mask sets as
each reduction takes place.  These will cause a practical end to the amount that
die sizes can be shrunk.

  First, let's take a look at the existing "90 nanometer" process.  The
operations of the circuits relies on tightly controlled processes.  While the
circuits and processes are controlled very tightly, a 10% mismatch between
components on a given die can be fatal.
  The size of a silicon atom is .3 nanometers.  This means that existing
processes are about 300 atoms across.  At this size, a one atom variance is .3%.
 However, if the transistor size is halved, for example, five time, then it will
be 300/(2^5) =~ 10 atoms across.  This means only one atom variance will cause a
mismatch of 10%!  Added to that is normal processing variance which will makes
the product not manufacturable.
  If we assume that the size is halved every two years, then there is about 10
years left in Moore's law.

  Compounding the problem is the exponential cost of making fabrication lines of
finer size transistors.  From a historical perspective, 25 years ago it cost
under 10 Million dollars to put together a fab (equipment, extra cost for a
clean environment, etc).  EACH product that was made in a fab would have a
dedicated mask set as tooling to make the product in that fab.  This tooling
cost in the range of $10k to $15k.
  At that time not only did every company, but, every product line within a
company that had more than $50 Million in sales would have their own fab line.
Many companies would have 6 to 8 (or more) fab lines.
  The costs of leading edge processes have increase dramatically.  There are no
more $10 Million fabs being made.  Many new fabs are costing $1 Billion or more!
 This has caused a dramatic shift in fab investments.  Not too surprisingly,
very few companies can afford to make a leading edge fab, and instead, rely on
companies like TSMC and UMC to make the large investments and allocate the cost
into the costs into the sales price of the wafers.
  While this has provided a working business model, as the cost of fabs continue
to double, there will be a point at which the incremental savings from a new
process technology will be too expensive to justify the cost of the fab.

  The mask set tooling has also increased dramatically.  Instead of $10k to $15k
dollars for a set, maturing processes of today cost $100k.  Products that are in
design right now are forecasted to have mask set tooling costs in excess of
$500k.  Given that the entire annual budget for smaller companies (including
salaries, rent, etc) can be $5 Million, it will not take long before fewer and
fewer companies will be able to make a run at the market with new products.

  The bottom line is that physical and financial constraint will bring an end to
Moore's law.  Realistically, it will not be an abrupt halt, but, instead from
doubling every two years, to double every four years, then to 5% increase per
  My bet is that we will see a dramatic slowing in 7 to 10 years.
  Beyond that, we will rely increasingly on more processors per system and other
techniques instead of more transistors per processor die.

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