Overcoming the Next Set of Information Technology Hurdles

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Overcoming the Next Set of Information Technology Hurdles

Nearly every aspect of our civilization relies on ever-faster computers, with ever larger data storage, communicating ever more rapidly, and contained in ever-smaller packages. For the past 40 years, the increase in speed and performance of computers and other chip-based devices has been achieved by doubling the number of transistors placed on the same area of a silicon chip every 18 months. This, of course, is known as Moore’s Law, a prediction by Intel cofounder Gordon Moore that the industry has consistently met.

Now, however, this rate of processor improvement is approaching the physical limits of the technologies inherent in current computer chips. This is not big news for the industry, since it has been known all along that there are serious technical issues associated with packing more transistors and connections onto silicon chips.

Over the years, engineers at Intel, AMD, and other chip companies have developed technical tricks to maintain the pace of Moore’s Law, which has lead to the incredible shrinking of electronic devices. But now, as transistors are reaching atomic dimensions, physical barriers are increasingly blocking the creation of high-performance electronic circuits.

  • Heat dissipation is one of the biggest issues denser circuits face with the dominant technology, called Complementary Metal Oxide Semiconductor (CMOS).
  • Another challenge in shrinking the features etched on chips is that these features must be larger than the wavelengths of the light that creates them. Therefore, light sources with ever-shorter wavelengths are needed.

It had been estimated that the current methods of making chips would be able to keep Moore’s Law on target by creating designs for the next two generations of chips, taking the sizes down to 14 nanometers and then 11 nanometers.1 However, by the end of 2013, a new manufacturing technology — or even a new manufacturing paradigm — will be needed.

The lithography technology that many believed would keep Moore’s Law going after 2013 is called “extreme ultraviolet” (EUV) lithography.

As recently as 2010, Intel was planning to use EUV techniques for building its 11-nanometer chips, which even now are a few years away. The hope was that this technology would become mainstream by 2012. The theoretical underpinning for the technology is sound, but what is becoming an urgent problem is the delay in commercializing the technology, which is proving to be far more difficult than anyone expected. 

One of the biggest challenges for making the technology viable is in developing a source that emits a powerful enough level of EUV light...

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