Forty years after the
Technical Possibility Does Not Mean Economical Feasibility
“The costs per transistor can still be halved every two years, on the condition that a chip maker reaches big volumes and fills its factories. But the total market growth is slowing down, and then it becomes more difficult to fill factories. Volume is ramping slower. I expect some delay (in
The number of transistors in a chip doubles every 18 to 24 months, whereas the price remains at the same level, according to
“Good Enough” Phenomenon Arises
A lot of users are satisfied with performance of their equipment and do not get new devices instead.
“Yes, we may hit the ‘good enough’ phenomenon where the race is going to change," said Henri Richard, global sales and marketing chief at microprocessor maker Advanced Micro Devices.
While emerging markets do not allow the growth of personal computer and similar industries to slowdown, the pace that exists today does not encourage a lot of developers to innovate really rapidly, as a state-of-the-art semiconductor facility costs billions of dollars to built and operated, whereas the demand from customers for large-volumes is not guaranteed. Furthermore, complex manufacturing technologies also cost a lot to be developed.
Given that few manufacturers can afford establishing and operating a $2.5 - $4 billion fab that processes 300mm wafers using 90nm or 65nm process technologies smaller semiconductor makers are likely to slowdown the speed of miniaturization. In fact, makers of chips for consumer electronics, which life-cycle lasts for 5 to 7 years, do not necessarily need to shrink die sizes every 18 – 24 months, unless chips for very complex devices, such as game consoles, are taken into consideration.
Technical Problems Still Exist
Another problem for chip designers is current leakage, a process when electricity in one transistor leaks to another transistor, which is not used at the moment. Such process increases power consumption, thermals and limits performance. This forces semiconductor designers and makers to reconsider their plans for shrinking process technologies, as thinner the process brings higher leakage possibilities are.