SANTA CLARA, Calif. — Whether Moore’s law is dead or alive, the semiconductor roadmap leads to both big challenges and opportunities, according to a panel of technologists from AMD, ARM, and Intel at the DesignCon event here.
Speakers were split over whether the number of transistors on a chip is continuing to double every two years as Intel co-founder Gordon Moore observed in 1965. “There’s at least a slowing of node transitions,” said Rob Aitken, a fellow and director of technology at ARM, noting both a three-year span between 16-nm and 10-nm production and the power advantages of “Denard scaling stopped at 90 nm for the kinds of circuits we deal with.”
Intel’s research provides a “five-year process horizon so our internal roadmap is to 5 nm, and we don’t see [Moore’s law] ending in that time,” said Rory McInerney, vice president of Intel’s platform engineering group and director of its server development group.
“Moore’s law is also a law of finance and a law of ambition. There’s an insatiable demand for advanced process technology, and in my area of AI, people are busting their butts to cram as much stuff in [a chip] as possible.”
From the perspective of rival AMD, time between nodes is stretching out, and both chip and fab costs are rising rapidly. “It has a profound impact on our business … we have to innovate more at every node with both architecture and packaging,” said Joe Macri, a corporate fellow and product chief technology officer at AMD.
Looking beyond 5 nm, an expected move “to some sort of vertical nanowire” will cause changes impacting some RTL designs, especially for high-speed circuits. But the changes probably won’t disrupt the abstractions that shield the typical digital logic designer, said Aitken of ARM.
McInerney predicted that a “pipeline of transistor and interconnect” innovations, especially for I/O circuits, will emerge to address a moving series of bottlenecks before the industry hits a wall. “At some point, you get down to single-digit atoms and things get hard to control, so there are physical limits to some parts of the process,” he said.
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