SAN FRANCISCO—The value of Moore's Law—the doubling of the number of transistors in a chip every 18 months—is not just in the cost reduction it offers but more importantly in the added value that chip makers can create for customers, according to Ivo Bolsens, senior vice president and chief technology officer at programmable logic vendor Xilinx Inc.
Speaking at the Semicon West fab tool vendor tradeshow here Wednesday (July 11), Bolsens said the way forward for chip makers was to add value through things like more efficient architectures, 3-D integration and programmability. Though he insisted that continued scaling of technology is essential, it is not as important as the value that chip makers can bring with new technology, he said.
"As we move forward, bringing value is becoming more important than the cost reduction offered by Moore's Law," Bolsens said.
While discussion of the merits of a chip often centers on the technology node at which it was implemented, the technology node is irrelevant to customers compared to the power consumption and performance advantages that can be offered at the next node, Bolsens said.
"A system company is not interested in whether you have 20-nm or 14-nm," Bolsens said. Instead, the systems company is interested in metrics like power consumption, performance and dollars per gigabyte, he said. "It's important to focus on the figures of merit that are important to your customers," Bolsens said.
Bolsens also praised the value of cooperation among the semiconductor industry supply chain. Even as a fabless company, Bolsens said, Xilinx has been actively engaging chip equipment and materials suppliers in recent years to get a sense of what technologies would become available and how they could be implemented, he said.
Xilinx, which in May announced it had commenced shipments of heterogeneous FPGA implemented in 3-D, Virtex-7 H580T. Planning for the company’s 3-D IC products began in 2006 and Xilinx began meeting with equipment and packaging suppliers to discuss it shortly thereafter, Bolsens said. It wasn't until 2008, after Xilinx determined that 3-D ICs would be viable and offer considerable benefits, that the firm met with foundry supplier Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. Ltd. to discuss moving forward with the plans, Bolsens said.
For Xilinx—a fabless chip vendor that does not actually build its own devices—such behavior is relatively new, Bolsens said. But he added that in today's world, it is essential for Xilinx and other large fabless chip vendors such as Qualcomm Inc. and Nvidia Corp. to actively engage with the semiconductor supply chain to learn about new technologies and implementations.
"As a fabless company, it is important that you engage proactively with the supply chain," Bolsens. "You can't wait until the technology becomes available."
As an example, Bolsens cited the cooperation of Xilinx, Qualcomm and Nvidia with IMEC, the microelectronics R&D consortium based in Belgium. "IMEC is typically known as a foundry research organization," said Bolsens. "But you see more fabless companies showing up there. They are the ones I think can leverage Moore's Law going forward."
Xilinx's CTO crystallizes the aims of two camps, the Moore'Law crowd that is performance bound and the More than Moore's camp which aims to add value to performance by designing functionality around the performance core. There are application areas for both camps to pursue.
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