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AMD claims 20nm transition signals the end of Moore's Law

Economic viability comes into question
Tue Apr 02 2013, 15:41
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SAN FRANCISCO: CHIP DESIGNER AMD claims that the delay in transitioning from 28nm to 20nm highlights the beginning of the end for Moore's Law.

AMD was one of the first consumer semiconductor vendors to make use of TSMC's 28nm process node with its Radeon HD 7000 series graphics cards, but like every chip vendor it is looking to future process nodes to help it increase performance. The firm told The INQUIRER the time taken to transition to 20nm signals the beginning of the end for Moore's Law.

Famed Intel co-founder and electronics engineer Gordon Moore predicted that total the number of transistors would double every two years. He also predicted that the 'law' would not continue to apply for as long as it has. It was professor Carver Mead at Caltech that coined the term Moore's Law, and now one of Mead's students, John Gustafson, chief graphics product architect at AMD, has said that Moore's Law is ending because it actually refers to a doubling of transistors that are economically viable to produce.

Gustafson said, "You can see how Moore's Law is slowing down. The original statement of Moore's Law is the number of transistors that is more economical to produce will double every two years. It has become warped into all these other forms but that is what he originally said."

According to Gustafson, the transistor density afforded by a process node defines the chip's economic viability. He said, "We [AMD] want to also look for the sweet spot, because if you print too few transistors your chip will cost too much per transistor and if you put too many it will cost too much per transistor. We've been waiting for that transistion from 28nm to 20nm to happen and it's taking longer than Moore's Law would have predicted."

Gustafson was pretty clear in his view of transistor density, saying, "I'm saying you are seeing the beginning of the end of Moore's law."

AMD isn't the only chip vendor looking to move to smaller process nodes and has to wait on TSMC and Globalfoundries before it can make the move. Even Intel, with its three year process node advantage over the industry is having problems justifying the cost of its manufacturing business to investors, so it could be the economics rather than the engineering that puts an end to Moore's Law. µ


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