SAN FRANCISCO — Intel believes it can drive Moore’s Law down to 7 nm even without long-delayed advances in lithography. It also gave its most detailed look to date at its foundry service for sharing its chipmaking prowess, including a description of a new low-cost alternative to 2.5D chip stacking it has in development.
“My day job is working on [research for a process to make] 7 nm [chips and] I believe there is a way without EUV,” said Intel fellow Mark Bohr, responding to a question after a talk on Intel’s new 14 nm process.
The optimism is significant given the core lithography used for patterning chips hasn’t had an upgrade in more than a decade. Chipmakers generally don’t expect the much-delayed extreme ultraviolet (EUV) lithography in time for 10 nm chips, but many still hold out hopes it could be ready for a 7 nm generation.
“I am very interested in EUV [because it] could really help scaling and perhaps process simplification, reducing three or four masks to one in some cases,” Bohr said. “Unfortunately, it’s not ready yet -- the throughput and reliability are not there.”
Bohr did not give any hints about how Intel will make 7 or even 10 nm chips without EUV. However he did note at 14 nm Intel is using triple patterning on one or more critical layers.
Although wafer costs rose at an accelerating rate for the last two nodes due to the need for more masks, Intel continues to pack more transistors in a given area of silicon. The density offsets wafer costs, leading to the cost-per-transistor decline, Bohr said in his talk on Intel’s 14 nm process.
“One of the fundamental benefits of Moore’s Law is smaller feature sizes, primarily to get lower cost per transistor so we can do more things” in a similarly sized chip, he said.
Intel already announced it has started making in volume chips using a 14 nm process at a lower cost per transistor than its prior 22 nm generation. It also said it is in development of a 10 nm process that it believes will deliver lower cost per transistor.
In a separate talk, Intel said before the end of 2015 it could offer external foundry customers a chance to try out its emerging 10 nm process on shared wafers called shuttles.
Next page: Inside Intel’s foundry service