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Semiconductors: Moore’s Law Gets a Reprieve?

By Dick Weisinger

It’s dead. No, it’s alive. Moore’s Law seems to survive despite the annual death knell.

Gordon Moore predicted in 1965 that the number of transistors on a computer would double every two years. For more than 50 years the ‘law’ has been correct. But around 2015, it appeared that a limit on the size of components was in it’s end game. Transistors have become so tiny that it would be physically impossible to shrink any smaller.

But now ASML, a leader in creating the tools and equipment for making the most sophisticated computer chips say that have developed technology to allow transistors to be made even smaller than the 2nm size that many saw as the minimum possible size. ASML says that their new technology will allow the further miniaturization of chips, following the standard two-year cycle, to continue for at least the next ten years.

Jesús del Alamo, a professor at MIT who works on novel transistor architectures, said that “it is really an incredible machine. It’s an absolutely revolutionary product, a breakthrough that is going to give a new lease of life to the industry for years.”

The new technology is called EUV (extreme ultraviolet lithography). ASML is the sole supplier for high-end EUV tools. EUV is banned for sale to China, but is being used by Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. (TSMC), Samsung and Intel. Marco Pieters, ASML’s executive vice president of the EUV NXE business, said that “for the foreseeable future, we’ll be the only ones providing this technology.”

Teun van Gogh, ASML vice president, said that “what we typically do is we try to make a tool available that can support our customers in a sort of two-year cadence. When we start shipping high NA, which will be at the end of 2023, we will also have a two-year cadence there to support our customers. We believe that the technology that we offer will bring us well into the next decade to support our customers.”

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