Moore’s Law, that is, the maxim that the number of transistors in a dense integrated circuit doubles approximately every two years, commemorated its 50th anniversary on April 19. The co-founder of Intel hit the mark. Intel, Samsung Electronics, and many more have continued to develop the semiconductor industry at a rapid pace. This has resulted in the popularization of personal computers across the world, which has led, in turn, to the IT revolution and the popularization of smartphones.
The overflow of smart gadgets and the information revolution are fueling the development of the semiconductor industry, too. Last year, the global semiconductor market reached US$340 billion in size and its growth rate for this year is estimated to be 8 percent. Smart cars and smart homes are advancing the era of the Internet of Things (IoT), and the release of a huge number of wearable devices is likely to cause the demand for semiconductor components like sensors and memory to soar.
Still, the constant realization of Moore’s Law is becoming increasingly difficult as technological development for higher integration requires snowballing processing costs. Under the circumstances, concerns are rising that delayed semiconductor performance improvement might hamper the growth of new industries. The microfabrication processes for higher integration is currently underway at the 20 nm level, and the minimum investment for stable mass production has skyrocketed to several trillion won, or billion dollars. Samsung Electronics has invested at least 10 trillion won (US$9.2 billion) a year in its facilities since 2010.
Nevertheless, leading semiconductor companies are still regarding Moore’s Law as an achievable goal. “Chances are good that we will make a breakthrough in terms of material and processing technology in the form of, for example, five nanometer-level microfabrication,” Intel said, adding, “We cannot say that Moore’s Law is dead, though it could be somewhat adjusted to better reflect reality.”
At the International Solid-State Circuits Conference (ISSCC) held in the United States in February this year, Kim Ki-nam, president of the semiconductor business of Samsung Electronics, remarked that faster yet power-saving semiconductor chips with a larger storage capacity are essential in today’s data-driven world, and innovation will go on despite the difficulty of performance improvement.
Experts are focusing on three aspects with regard to semiconductor performance innovation: advanced new materials such as graphene and carbon nanotubes to replace silicon; semiconductor processing technology based on 3D stacking; and one-chip solutions incorporating memory and non-memory chips together. Samsung Electronics has already started a quest by succeeding in manufacturing 3D NAND flash memory and 14 nm FINFET. The integration between memory and non-memory chips is going on as well.
Aware of their limitations as single companies, those in the industry are strengthening their collaboration. Samsung Electronics, Intel and TSMC, for example, are accelerating the development of new equipment by co-financing semiconductor equipment manufacturer ASML.