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As Moore's Law approaches 50, Intel battling to keep up

Agam Shah | Nov. 21, 2014
With advances in chip technology, it's becoming more difficult for Intel to keep up with Moore's Law, but the company's CEO says that remains the key baseline when it comes to adding performance and functionality to its processors.

Intel is also trying to move on from its initial struggles with 14-nm and is looking forward. The company brushed Broadwell aside at the recent Intel Developer Forum and promoted its next-generation architecture called Skylake, which will also be made using the 14-nm process, with features for wire-free computing and better graphics.

Market needs have defined Intel's manufacturing priorities. With the PC market weakening, Intel is churning out more mobile chips in which power consumption remains a priority over performance. That has changed the way Intel has built processors, with the company adopting a system-on-chip approach where a number of processing and wireless modules are integrated in one chipset.

Krzanich said Intel still wants cutting-edge transistors, but depending on priorities, Moore's Law could be achieved using multiple paths. Balance needs to be found in cost, performance and power consumption.

Intel is approaching Moore's Law from the economics related to cost-per-transistor, which would come down with scaling. With the 22-nm process, Intel adopted a new chip design in which it started stacking transistors on top of each other. That was enhanced with 14-nm technology, in which chip sizes were made even smaller.

Intel was slightly below the trend line on cost reduction with 14-nm process compared to previous manufacturing processes when taking Moore's Law into account, Holt said.

In terms of chip design, Intel scaled down the transistor fin pitch, and aggressively reduced the scale of the interconnect so all the building blocks on chips fit together in a cohesive way. But it could not achieve aggressive scaling with the gate pitch or SRAM memory cells.

But as Moore's Law detractors have argued, etching more and more features on smaller chips will get even more challenging. Chips could be vulnerable to a wider range of defects, and a lot more of attention to detail is required when designing and making chips.

Intel is looking to implement new technologies like EUV (extreme ultraviolet) lithography, which will help produce chips at smaller geometries. It is also shifting to 450-millimeter wafers so it's less expensive to make chips. Intel is also researching chip materials that could possibly replace silicon.

The 14-nm process will be succeeded by the 10-nm and the 7-nm processes. Holt did not say when the first chips based on those processes would be released, but Moore's Law will be applicable.

"We are quite confident we can continue to deliver on the promises of Moore's Law," Holt said.


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