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Thread: Integrated Circuit Technology Advances Continue to Amaze

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    Integrated Circuit Technology Advances Continue to Amaze

    Despite increasing costs of development, IC manufacturers are still making great strides.

    The success and proliferation of integrated circuits has largely hinged on the ability of IC manufacturers to continue offering more performance and functionality for the money. Driving down the cost of ICs (on a per-function or per-performance basis) is inescapably tied to a growing arsenal of technologies and wafer-fab manufacturing disciplines as mainstream CMOS processes reach their theoretical, practical, and economic limits. Among the many levers being pulled by IC designers and manufacturers are: feature-size reductions, introduction of new materials and transistor structures, migration to larger-diameter silicon wafers, higher throughput in fab equipment, increased factory automation, three-dimensional integration of circuitry and chips, and advanced IC packaging and holistic system-driven design approaches.

    For logic-oriented processes, companies are fabricating leading-edge devices such as high-performance microprocessors, low-power application processors, and other advanced logic devices using the 14nm and 10nm generations (Figure 1). There is more variety than ever among the processes companies offer, making it challenging to compare them in a fair and useful way. Moreover, “plus” or derivative versions of each process generation and half steps between major nodes have become regular occurrences.

    For five decades, the industry has enjoyed exponential improvements in the productivity and performance of integrated circuit technology. While the industry has continued to surmount obstacles put in front of it, the barriers are getting bigger. Feature size reduction, wafer diameter increases, and yield improvement all have physical or statistical limits, or more commonly…economic limits. Therefore, IC companies continue to wring every bit of productivity out of existing processes before looking to major technological advances to solve problems.

    The growing design and manufacturing challenges and costs have divided the integrated circuit world into the haves and have-nots. In the June 1999 Update to The McClean Report, IC Insights first described its “Inverted Pyramid” theory, where it was stated that the IC industry was in the early stages of a new era characterized by dramatic restructuring and change. It was stated that the marketshare makeup in various IC product segments was becoming “top heavy,” with the shares held by top producers leaving very little room for remaining competitors. Although the Update described the emerging inverted pyramid phenomenon from a marketshare perspective, an analogous trend can be seen regarding IC process development and fabrication capabilities. The industry has evolved to the point where only a very small group of companies can develop leading-edge process technologies and fabricate leading-edge ICs.

    Integrated Circuit Technology Advances Continue to Amaze-ic-manufacturers-still-making-great-strides.jpg

    Figure 1

    Report Details: The 2018 McClean Report
    Additional details on other IC technology and market trends within the IC industry are provided in the 2018 edition of The McClean Report—A Complete Analysis and Forecast of the Integrated Circuit Industry (released in January 2018). A subscription to The McClean Report includes free monthly updates from March through November (including a 250+ page Mid-Year Update, and free access to subscriber-only webinars throughout the year. An individual-user license to the 2018 edition of The McClean Report is priced at $4,290 and includes an Internet access password. A multi-user worldwide corporate license is available for $7,290.


    To review additional information about IC Insights’ new and existing market research reports and services please visit our website: IC Insights | Semiconductor Market Research.

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    Much as I hate to point it out, that drawing is kind on unfair to Intel -- their 14nm process is pretty much what everyone else calls 10nm, their 10nm is everyone else's 7nm. And their first 22nm FinFet process was pretty much what everyone else called 16nm, but a lot earlier -- which is what set off everyone else to introduce FinFETs in a big hurry, because they weren't expecting FinFET to make it into production that quickly and Intel caught them on the hop.

    Their node names are one step closer to reality than the other foundries -- what lead to the big disconnection was the foundries adding FinFETs into their 20nm processes and then marketing departments deciding that this meant the node name had to advance because it was better, when they should have been called 20nm FinFET not 14nm/16nm. This then carried on, so 10nm should have been 14nm (like Intel), 7nm should have been 10nm (like Intel)...

    What is certain is that Intel's big process lead has gone; their 22nm FinFET process was introduced more than two years before the other foundries 14nm/16nm, their 14nm about two years before others 10nm, but though their 10nm was announced with a big fanfare well before others 7nm it will hit production at about the same time.

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