The cost reduction associated with scaling may be over, unless we augment dimensional scaling with monolithic 3D-IC scaling.
The last 50 years of the semiconductor industry have been all about the manifestation of Moore's Law with regard to the dimensional scaling of Integrated Circuits (ICs). As consumers of electronic devices, we all love to see better products at a lower cost with each and every new product cycle. But now storm clouds are forming, as was recently publicly expressed in the article Nvidia deeply unhappy with TSMC, claims 20nm essentially worthless (click here to see the original article).
Clearly, dimensional scaling is no longer associated with lower average cost per transistor. The chart below, published by IBS about a year ago, shows the diminishing benefit of cost reduction from dimensional scaling. In fact, the chart indicates that the 20nm node might be associated with higher cost than the previous node.
The following Nvidia chart provides the first order explanation. The cost reduction of dimensional scaling results from doubling the number of transistors per wafer. But if the wafer cost of the new technology node increases by too much, then it neutralizes the original cost reduction. The Nvidia chart shows the wafer cost of recent nodes over time.
In the past (...80nm, 55nm, 40nm), the incremental wafer cost increases were small, and rapid depreciation of those costs resulted in almost constant average wafer price. Recent nodes (28nm, 20nm, 14nm...), however, signal a new reality.
The following (somewhat busy) slide from IBM summarizes things clearly saying: "Net: neither per wafer nor per gate showing historical cost reduction trends"
The number one driver when it comes to increasing wafer costs is the increase in the equipment cost required for processing the next technology node. The following chart presents the increase in costs of capital, process R&D, and design:
The sharp increase of costs associated with scaling is a new phenomenon. There were always costs to move from one node to the next, but they were about constant or incrementally small.
The following slide presents the innovations that enable dimensional scaling. Clearly, for many nodes we were able to use the same lithography tools. But once dimensional scaling reached the limit of light wavelength the lithography tool became critical and dominant. About for every node the lithography became a major challenge that required newer equipment and substantial process R&D. Moreover, in the recent lithography nodes the transistor itself required significant innovation at every node (high-k, Metal Gate, Strain, SiGe, Tri-gate,...) and it is clear that future scaled nodes will require even more of those innovations and their associated costs.
An important part of these costs is the escalating cost of the capital equipment for the next node fabrication lines. The following figure present the cost dynamic for the lithography equipment. Note the logarithmic scale of the cost axis.
Lithography tools grew from less than 10% of wafer fab equipment (WFE) spending to over 25% and accordingly lithography now represents about 50 % of the wafer cost.
An interesting implication of growing domination of lithography in semiconductor processing is the fact that the ASML, which is the lead vendor of lithography tool, recently passed Applied Material's (the leader of all other tools) market cap. Following is the chart of the stock price of ASML (in red) vs. Applied Material (AMAT).
The clear conclusion of all of this is that future dimensional scaling is not about to change these trends. Accordingly, as stated in the IBM slide above: "Net: neither per wafer nor per gate showing historical cost reduction trends."
…unless we change the way we do scaling (remember Einstein's famous quote
). Moore's Law is about doubling the number of transistors in a semiconductor device. At the time Moore first postulated this, dimensional scaling was one of the three trends he described that would enable the observed and predicted exponential increase of device integration. It would seem that it is about time to look on another one of those – increasing the die size. If we do this by using the third dimension – monolithic 3D-IC – we can achieve both higher integration and cost reduction!
It is not that we should stop scaling down – It's just that if we augment this with "scaling up" (moving to the third dimension), we can introduce the required changes that can achieve the continuation of the cost reduction trend. Clearly, almost all of the increases of wafer costs are related to the pace of dimensional scaling. If those costs could be spread over four years instead of two then the increase in wafer cost would be only about half of what it is now.
It might not be so clear, however, as to why monolithic 3D should reduce wafer cost. Shouldn't the cost of the double die size spread over two layers be at least double…?
In fact, the use of monolithic 3D IC technology would reduce wafer cost because of the following elements:
- Reduced Die Size: It has been shown in many research studies that each folding into 3D has the potential to reduce the total required silicon area by 50% due to the reduced re-buffering and reduced sizing of the buffers.
- Depreciation: Scaling up enables the use of the same fab and process R&D for few additional years with the associated improvement in deprecation costs and improved manufacturing efficiencies and yield.
- Heterogeneous Integration: Scaling up would enable heterogeneous integration. This will open up the third trend of Moore- improved circuit design. As each strata of 3D IC could be processed in a different flow, cost and power could be saved by using a different process flow for logic, memory and I/O.
- Multiple Layers Processed Together: This would be most effective for a memory type circuits. Using the right architecture, multiple transistors layers could be processed simultaneously, resulting in a huge reduction of cost per layer.
Let's consider at each of these points in a little more detail…Reduced Die Size
Dimensional scaling has always been associated with an increase of wire resistivity and capacitance. The industry has spent a huge effort to overcome these by first replacing the conducting material with copper and then changing the isolation material to low-K dielectrics. But the interconnect problem is still growing as demonstrated in the following chart.
Every node of dimensional scaling is associated with larger cells, output drivers, and more buffers and repeaters. Monolithic 3D enables one to fold the circuit such that each additional layer is only around 1µm thick, with very rich vertical connectivity between strata. The following IBM/MIT slide illustrates the effectiveness of such folding.
Further, the reduced silicon area generates an additional reduction of buffers and the average transistor size. MonolithIC 3D Inc. released an open-source top level simulator IntSim v2.0
to simulate a given design's expected size and power based on process parameters and the number of strata (more than 300 copies have been downloaded so far).
Using this simulator, as illustrated in the following table, we can see that a design that uses 50 mm2
with average size gate size of 6 W/L, will now need an average gate size of 3 W/L and accordingly only 24 mm2
if folded into two strata (the footprint will be therefore just 12 mm2
These results are in-line with many other monolithic 3D research results.Depreciation
The semiconductor industry is very capital intensive, and a very significant part of the wafer cost is associated with the cost of capital. Since every two years we have been scaling to a new node, then the wafer cost needs to support this rapid loss of capital value. Achieving the next level of device functionality using the same generation of tools allows for a far better utilization of the investment capital. In addition the learning curve of yield and manufacturing efficiency contributes further to the end-product cost reduction. The following chart portion demonstrates this well known trend.Heterogeneous Integration
Let's start by quoting Mark Bohr
, the person in charge of Intel's process development:
"One important perspective is that chip technology is becoming more heterogeneous. If you go back 10 or 20 years ago, it was homogenous. There was a CMOS transistor, it was the same materials for NMOS and PMOS, maybe different dopant atoms, and that basic CMOS transistor fit the needs of both memory and logic. Going forward we'll see chips and 3D packages that combine more heterogeneous elements, different materials, and maybe transistors with very different structures whether they're for logic or memory or analog. Combining these very different devices onto one chip or into a 3D stack – that's what we'll see. It will be heterogeneous integration"
The most important market for semiconductor products is smart mobility. For this market the SoC device needs to integrate many functions. In most cases the pure high-performance logic would be about 25% of the die area, 50% would be memories and the rest would be analog functions such as I/O. In 2D they all need to be processed together and bear the same manufacturing costs. In a monolithic 3D-IC stack using heterogeneous integration each stratum is processed in an optimized flow, allowing for a significant cost reduction. The following illustration suggests the use of only two strata to build a device that in 2D would have a size of 196 mm2
. By having one stratum for logic and one for memory, and by using DRAM instead of SRAM, the device could be reduced to 98 mm2
with footprint of 49 mm2
. The device cost would be further reduced by the memory using only 3 or 4 metal layers.Multiple Layers Processed Together
Using the right architecture, multiple transistor layers could be processed together with a huge reduction in cost per layer. This could be applied to many different types of regular devices. The following image illustrates the concept with respect to a floating-body DRAM:
MonolithIC 3D Inc's website presents more details for the DRAM flow
, and also related flows for RRAM
and NAND Flash
In short, we do have a path to continue the semiconductor industry drive for better products and with lower costs, but we should continuously apply innovation to do so. Now that monolithic 3D is practical, it is time to augment dimensional scaling with monolithic 3D-IC scaling.About the author
Zvi Or-Bach is the founder of MonolithIC 3D Inc.
, which was judged Top Embedded Innovator-Silicon
by Embedded Computing Design Magazine
and Finalist of the "Best of Semicon West 2011" for its monolithic 3D-IC breakthrough. Or-Bach was also a finalist of the EE Times Innovator of the Year Award in 2011 and 2012 for his pioneering work on the monolithic 3D-IC.
Prior to MonolithIC 3D, Or-Bach founded eASIC in 1999 and served as the company's CEO for six years. eASIC was funded by leading investors Vinod Khosla and KPCB. Under Or-Bach's leadership, eASIC won the prestigious EE Times' 2005 ACE Award for Ultimate Product of the year in the Logic and Programmable Logic category.
Earlier, Or-Bach founded Chip Express in 1989 and served as the company's President and CEO for almost 10 years, bringing the company to $40M revenue and to industry recognition for three consecutive years as a high-tech Fast 50 Company.
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