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Will 7nm and 5nm CPU Process Tech Really Happen? 142

An anonymous reader writes "This article provides a technical look at the challenges in scaling chip production ever downward in the semiconductor industry. Chips based on a 22nm process are running in consumer devices around the world, and 14nm development is well underway. But as we approach 10nm, 7nm, and 5nm, the low-hanging fruit disappears, and several fundamental components need huge technological advancement to be built. Quoting: "In the near term, the leading-edge chip roadmap looks clear. Chips based on today's finFETs and planar FDSOI technologies will scale to 10nm. Then, the gate starts losing control over the channel at 7nm, prompting the need for a new transistor architecture. ... The industry faces some manufacturing challenges beyond 10nm. The biggest hurdle is lithography. To reduce patterning costs, Imec's CMOS partners hope to insert extreme ultraviolet (EUV) lithography by 7nm. But EUV has missed several market windows and remains delayed, due to issues with the power source. ... By 7nm, the industry may require both EUV and multiple patterning. 'At 7nm, we need layers down to a pitch of about 21nm,' said Adam Brand, senior director of the Transistor Technology Group at Applied Materials. 'That's already below the pitch of EUV by itself. To do a layer like the fin at 21nm, it's going to take EUV plus double patterning to round out of the gate. So clearly, the future of the industry is a combination of these technologies.'"
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Will 7nm and 5nm CPU Process Tech Really Happen?

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  • Re:Car analogy? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by spire3661 ( 1038968 ) on Friday June 20, 2014 @11:23AM (#47281791) Journal
    Lets extend this. You can only bore out the cylinders so much before you have to start looking at a new design or your cylinder walls will be too thin.
  • Re:Car analogy? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by DahGhostfacedFiddlah ( 470393 ) on Friday June 20, 2014 @11:41AM (#47281981)

    We're trying to make smaller and smaller cars out of silicon, because then we can fit more cars onto parking lots. The number of cars we can fit onto a parking lot has been doubling approximately every 18 months for the past half-century, but we appear to be approaching some hard physical limits for the actual size of cars. In addition to the limits imposed by the size of the cars themselves (below a certain size, cars start interacting at a quantum level with the other cars around them), there are also challenges inherent in manufacturing cars at such a tiny scale. There is some new car-making technology on the horizon that may resolve these issues by using higher-frequency car-making lasers in our car foundries. But top researchers still have technical hurdles to pass before they can manufacture cars that are smaller than 7nm.

  • by mrflash818 ( 226638 ) on Friday June 20, 2014 @12:00PM (#47282211) Homepage Journal

    I worry about the reliability with tinyer and tinyer CPU feature size. will those CPUs be doing, reliability-wise, 10yrs later?

    When I buy something 'expensive', I expect it to last at least 10yrs, and CPUs are kinda expensive, to me.

    (I still have an Athlon Thunderbird 700MHz Debian workstation that I use, for example, and it's still reliable.)

  • Re:Same story (Score:4, Insightful)

    by rahvin112 ( 446269 ) on Friday June 20, 2014 @12:35PM (#47282529)

    There is a limit we'll hit eventually, we're approaching circuits that are single digit atoms wide. No matter what we'll never get a circuit less than a single atom. Don't get me wrong, I don't think 10nm is going to be the problem but somewhere around single digit atoms wide we're going to run out of options to make them smaller.

  • Re:Car analogy? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by drinkypoo ( 153816 ) <> on Friday June 20, 2014 @01:16PM (#47282957) Homepage Journal

    That doesn't sound like breaking the laws of physics: making the car lighter will make it faster, as well as (assuming you avoid exotic materials) making it cheaper.

    It's not breaking the laws of physics, but it is ignoring the current state of materials technology. You have to build a lot of cars before you can get the cost of building an aluminum body down to the same as the cost of building a steel body, and carbon fiber (the only other credible alternative today) is always more expensive.

    Also, they forgot "stronger". Cars which have a more rigid body not only handle better but they're actually more comfortable, because the suspension can be designed around a more rigid, predictable body. Getting all four of those things in the same package is the real challenge.

  • by hairyfeet ( 841228 ) <bassbeast1968 AT gmail DOT com> on Friday June 20, 2014 @03:54PM (#47284347) Journal

    And this little tidbit I'm sure has CPU OEMs scared....they passed "good enough" on their designs and went so far into "insanely overpowered" that consumers really have no reason to buy before the previous unit dies.

    Take what I'm typing on as an example, its an HP Pro 3000 which since it came with Vista (which I of course upgraded to Win 7, putting 32bit Vista on a PC with 4GB? WTH HP?) I would date it around 07-08. It has a Pentium Dual at 2.7Ghz, 4GB of RAM, and a 500GB many home users are actually gonna be able to max this out? I pound the shit out of this machine, downloading drivers and burning discs and yanking data off of memory cards, often at the same time, and it just purrs, so why buy a new one? Now we are seeing the same thing with ARM, my dad recently picked up a tablet I recommended which has 4 cores, 1GB of RAM and 8GB of onboard storage, final cost? $140 shipped, the odds that he will be able to max it out? pretty much zero. this thing has enough power it can easily drive his widescreen TV over HDMI, surf, chat, and gets great battery life...what motivation does he have to buy a new one?

    Lets face it X86 systems have become like washers and dryers, no need to get a new before the old one dies. Hell this is even true for gamers, my gaming PC at home is fricking 5 years old now which is ancient history in the PC world yet with a hexacore, 8GB of RAM, and 3TB of HDD space the only thing I've had to do since buying it is upgrade my GPU. That's it, that is all I've had to do and I'm playing Bioshock Infinite and Far Cry 3 and anything else i want to play with plenty of bling and decent framerates. We are seeing X86 play out on fast forward with ARM now going up to octocore because MHz bumps are getting harder to do without blowing the power budget, there is just no reason to buy before the current one dies which I'm sure is scarier than trying to hit 14nm to Intel and TSMC.

  • by david_thornley ( 598059 ) on Friday June 20, 2014 @05:29PM (#47284977)

    You do realize that we've been in that situation since the dawn of computers, don't you? Once we get close to filling needs, people come up with other needs. Once processor development more or less stalls out, people will still want better performance, but they won't get it by updating their systems any more. Software development is a pretty secure profession.

If I have seen farther than others, it is because I was standing on the shoulders of giants. -- Isaac Newton