Microchips can't get much cheaper despite Moore's Law
Broadcom Chairman and CTO Henry Samueli has warned that Moore's Law is breaking down and is not making chips cheaper these days.
Talking to IT World, Samueli said that propping up Moore’s Law was now so expensive in terms of development, it cancelled out the cost savings that should come with each new generation.
Samueli, who co-founded Broadcome in 1991, said that the cost curves are getting flat and instead of more speed, less power consumption and lower cost with each generation, chip makers now have to choose two out of three.
New techniques such as High-K Metal Gate and FinFET are now being used to achieve new process nodes and the most advanced process node on the market will hit 14 nanometers next year.
However, at levels like that, chipmakers need more than traditional manufacturing techniques to achieve the high density, Samueli said. The denser chips get, the more expensive it will be to make them.
Process nodes will be headed for a wall in about 15 years. After another three generations, chips will probably reach 5nm, and at that point, there will be only 10 atoms from the beginning to the end of each transistor gate, he said. Then it all gets silly and further advances may be impossible.
Samueli said that you cannot build a transistor with only an atom and there is no obvious path forward at that point. The CMOS transistor has not been replaced for 50 years.
However, it is unlikely that chipmakers will go beyond the current process nodes. This is because the cost increases of making chips will kick in sooner. For some types of processors, chipmakers will probably stick with current process nodes and only invest in more dense geometries for chips that have to meet growing performance and power-consumption requirements at any cost, Samueli said.
This repeats a pattern seen with analogue chips, where manufacturers still use technology that's five years old or more and innovate instead on design, he said.
While some of the network switch chips Broadcom makes will demand new process nodes, many processors in consumer devices probably will not, he said. "You don't need to build a wi-fi chip in 10nm CMOS. Now the only use that consumer devices have for newer technology is to improve battery life."