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Forty years after the Moore’s Law was proclaimed by Intel Corp. co-founder Gordon Moore, the law comes under fire of industry experts and executives who cite both technology and economical reasons. Still, while technology just needs some additional research and funds to maintain the pace of doubling the number of transistors per chip at the same cost, from the standpoint of volume manufacturing that may be unnecessary, as the market of semiconductors does not grow fast enough, they say.

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 Moore’s Law), Fred van Roosmalen, general manager for technology partnerships at Philips Semiconductors, is reported to have said according to Reuters news-agency.

“Technically Moore’s Law is still valid, but economically there are issues,” Toshihiko Ono, who is in charge of Fujitsu’s semiconductor operations, is reported to have said at the Reuters Asia Technology and Telecoms summit.

The number of transistors in a chip doubles every 18 to 24 months, whereas the price remains at the same level, according to Moore’s Law. Miniaturization allows makers of chips to increase performance or functionality of their products, adding value to end-users encouraging them to renew their computing devices constantly. However, during the recent years the users have demonstrated slower adoption of new products, which prolonged replacement cycles.

“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.

In the past Gordon Moore himself said that revision of the Law was inevitable, however, he remained optimistic about the Law’s future for the next decade.

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