Monday, November 9, 2009

Virtual Semiconductor Research and Development

Semiconductor technology growth is very essential for everyone - not just companies - not just individuals - but everyone. Every device we use today - cell phones, automobiles, laptops, servers, toys, TVs, digital media devices etc. - all have hundreds to millions of transistors. Super computers boast billions of transistors.

Friday of last week, during a corporate networking event I met many IBM executives - who ranked from Director to VP.An interesting conversation I had was with the Director of Design and Technology Integration. One of the functions he is responsible for is 'designer productivity tools' for semiconductor technology development. The Director is being challenged with surpassing the physical limitations imposed by Moore's Law.

While it is true to an extent to assume that there are plenty of designer tools for semiconductor technology development, used not only at IBM but also at companies such as Intel, TSMC, AMD, SONY, Fuzitsu etc., there is innovation waiting to happen in this space.

Moore's Law 

The law is named after Intel's co-founder Gordon E. Moore, who introduced it in a 1965 paper.
"Transistors per integrated circuit. The most popular formulation is of the doubling of the number of transistors on integrated circuits every two years"

There are other derivatives of Moore's Law too but this one is most pertinent to my discussion. 

I am paraphrasing Moore's law and I say it as - unless a semiconductor foundry is able to double the number of transistors every two years the economics will fail. By economics I mean a business model that will be sustainable and profitable. There are few in this world who know that semiconductor research and development is at the brink of either extinction or about to witness the greatest innovation - ever in history.

The problem is as follows: With the continuous scaling down of transistor design on integrated circuits - such as from 130nm to 90nm to 65nm to 45nm to 32nm to 22mm - current research has shown that 15nm might be the point of inevitability - where two transistors that are 15nm apart will merely disintegrate rather than create the electronic circuit. Unless we are able to find a way to make 15nm work it is fair to say that we have hit Moore's Law limit. Technologically the semiconductor business is on a race against time with little less than 2 years to discover the design for 15nm semiconductor development.

The race against time: If only if this discussion were to be as easy as watching Survivor or other game shows on TV - where the contestants have to accomplish a goal given certain resources in preset conditions, and the one who achieves the goal in the shortest time is the winner. Trust me, semiconductor business is one of the hardest. Guess what happens when we are no longer able to produce 2x transistors on the same chip-scale as today? The result will be that the next set of chips will be sold for more than 1x the price as today's chips. Such is not a winning proposition for any company. As we know already, tomorrow's new technology cannot be sold for more than the price of today's.

We have begun to explore applying the Virtual Fabrication technology, as I have described here has done a lot of good for IBM's Semiconductor Manufacturing division, by extrapolating to semiconductor research and development. We believe that Virtual Fabrication technology will once again come to the rescue - providing the resources, modeling, and an environment to host and run development programs - ultimately helping scientists discover the way to continued semiconductor technology growth. Such will also witness growth and major enhancements in Virtual Fabrication technology, which will fuel the hybrid nature of semiconductor research and development programs.

It is possible to have Virtual Semiconductor Research and Development?           Yes.

Only time will whether 'Virtual Semiconductor Research and Development' will save the day when semiconductor technology was almost about to become extinct. As of now, the hopes and promises are very high within the four walls of IBM. More to come on this topic. For now, all I can tell you is that IBM will break Moore's law.

No comments:

Post a Comment