One chilly Tuesday evening last December, dozens of physicists and engineers who dream up tomorrow’s transistors met in San Francisco to ponder the far future. Would today’s state-of-the-art switch—a three-dimensional transistor dubbed the FinFET—be able to carry chips “to the finish,” a distant, possibly unreachable horizon where transistors are made up of just a handful of atoms? Or would we need a new technology to get us there? This may all sound like the tech world’s version of arguing over how many angels can dance on the head of a pin, but it actually has enormous real-world implications. The semiconductor industry pulled in revenues of US $300 billion in 2012. After decades of fulfilling Gordon Moore’s prophesy of steadily doubling transistor densities (these days every 18 to 24 months), the industry is now delivering integrated circuits with transistors that are made using what chipmakers call a 20- or 22-nanometer manufacturing process. An IC fabricated with this process, such as a microprocessor or a dynamic RAM (DRAM) chip, can have billions of transistors. Nevertheless, there on the cutting edge, the business is troubled. Each new generation of ultradense chips demands a new manufacturing process of mind-boggling industrial and technological complexity. The… Read full this story
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