November 12, 2011

Keeping Moore's law going to 7 nanometers

IEEE Spectrum - Right now it looks like both FinFETs and UTB SOIs should be able to cover the next three generations of transistors. But UTB SOI transistors may not evolve much below 7 nm, because at that point, their gate oxide would need an effective thickness of 0.7 nm, which would require significant materials innovation. FinFETs may have a similar limit. In 2006, a team at the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology used electron-beam lithography to build 3-nm FinFETs. But crafting a single device isn't quite the same as packing millions together to make a microprocessor; when transistors are that close to each other, parasitic capacitances and resistances will draw current away from each switch. Some projections suggest that when FinFETs are scaled down to 7 nm or so, they will perform no better than planar devices.


Illustration: Emily Cooper Eliminating EXCESS: In the next few years, traditional planar CMOS field-effect transistors [left] will be replaced by alternate architectures that boost the gate's control of the channel. The UTB SOI [center] replaces the bulk silicon channel with a thin layer of silicon mounted on insulator. The FinFET [right] turns the transistor channel on its side and wraps the gate around three sides.



Researchers are already trying to figure out what devices might succeed FinFETs and UTB SOIs, to continue Moore's Law scaling. One possibility is to extrapolate the FinFET concept by using a nanowire device that is completely surrounded by a cylindrical gate. Another idea is to exploit quantum tunneling to create switches that can't leak current when they're not switched on. We don't know what will come next. The emergence of FinFETs and UTB SOIs clearly shows that the days of simple transistor scaling are long behind us. But the switch to these new designs also offers a clear demonstration of how creative thinking and a good amount of competition can help us push Moore's Law to its ultimate limit—whatever that might be.

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