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Analyst: Is Moore's Law slowing down?

Posted: 27 Jan 2010 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:EUV? 450mm? Moore's Law? lithography?

An analyst cited that the 450mm fabs and extreme ultraviolet (EUV) lithography delays may be a possible sign that Moore's Law is in danger of slowing down.

IC Insights Inc. indicated that there could be delays for two chip-scaling enablers: 450mm fabs and EUV. Another emerging chip-scaling technology, 3D devices based on thru-silicon vias (TSVs), remains in the embryonic stages and is "overhyped," said Trevor Yancey, an analyst with IC Insights.

Gus Richard, an analyst with Piper Jaffray & Co., also sees delays for 450mm fabs and EUV. "We believe that the transition to EUV will (be) challenging at best, unaffordable at the worst and likely significantly delayed," Richard said in a new report. "The alternative cost reduction path is larger wafers (450mm). However, equipment companies are unwilling to fund the R&D for 450mm development."

What does that all mean? Perhaps a slowdown in the two-year process technology cycle. "The underlying economic engine of the semiconductor industry is Moore's Law and the price elasticity it provides. If the cadence of Moore's Law slows, we think the growth rate of the semiconductor industry would slow as well," he warned.

The current recession has delayed the possible transition to the next-generation 450mm wafer size. 450mm fabs were supposed to happen in the 2012-to-2014 time frame.

There are some return-on-investment issues for fab tool makers. Simply put, the fab tool customer base for 450mm is too small. The R&D is too costly. "We estimate that a 450mm fab in 5-10 years will cost somewhere between $8 billion and $12 billion. In our view, only 2 to 5 companies that will be able to make the transition to a 450mm due to the high cost," Richard said.

EUV is also in trouble. On the lithography front, today's immersion lithography technology is enabling devices down to the 3xnm node, maybe even the 2xnm node. Lithography is the crucial technology that drives scaling or Moore's law, he said.

EUV is supposed to be inserted at the 16nm logic node in 2013. IC Insights believes EUV will be delayed and may be inserted at the 13nm node in 2015 or 2016.

"The transition to EUV lithography may take longer and cost more than is expected," Richard warned. "NAND and DRAM suppliers will need a production EUV tool by 2012 or 2013 and Intel would like to have EUV by 2014. We estimate that ASML will ship 4 or 5 beta tools in 2010, and it has indicated that these tools will be ready for production in 2012. However, based on our conversations with industry contacts, many believe that EUV will not be ready until 2014 or 2016."

So what will the industry do instead? "We believe that the current generation of immersion lithography tools will allow Intel to move to 16nm and NAND flash suppliers to move to 22nm, the foundries to move to 28nm and DRAM manufacturers to move to the 2xnm nodes," he said.

"Based on our conversations with lithography experts, double or triple patterning in combination with computational lithography could extend immersion lithography to the 2xnm node for most manufacturers," he said. "We believe that Intel will be able to push immersion lithography to 16nm. However, the extension of immersion to 22nm and below is likely to add to the cost and complexity of the current immersion lithographic process, potentially making immersion at advanced nodes uneconomical."

Not all agree, namely ASML Holding NV and Nikon Corp. Both are developing EUV tools.

"ASML is making the bet on EUV; we believe that it is a bold and high stakes bet. We believe that it is too early to predict EUV's success or failure and more will be known as beta systems are installed in the second half of 2010," Richard pointed out.

- Mark LaPedus
EE Times





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