The chipmaker, Intel is estabishing 7-nm chip pilot plant this year. It will be Intel’s next big Moore’s law Advancement to make Moore’s law alive.
For decades, Moore’s Law has been the guiding light for Intel to make teenier, faster, and more power-efficient chips. The effort has helped PC makers continuously shrink laptops and mobile devices while adding longer battery life.
What is Moore’s Law?
Moore’s law refers to an observation made by Intel co-founder Gordon Moore in 1965. He noticed that the number of transistors per square inch on integrated circuits had doubled every year since their invention. Moore’s law predicts that this trend will continue into the foreseeable future
Intel is trying to hang onto the long-standing observation as a way to push its chip technology forward. However, some experts argue Moore’s Law is expiring as it becomes physically impossible to cram more features on smaller chips.
The pilot plant will test and iron out kinks in manufacturing 7-nm chips. Intel hasn’t said when it’ll start shipping 7-nm chips in volume, but it won’t be in the next two to three years.
The pilot plant has limited production, but it sets the stage for Intel to invest billions in larger factories to make smaller 7-nm chips.
Once they have the process locked down, it’s replicated in the other plants.
Intel’s latest chips, based on Kaby Lake, are made using the 14-nanometer process, and the company is now moving to 10-nm with its upcoming Cannonlake chip, which was shown in a PC at CES earlier this month. The 7-nm chips will come after the 10-nm process.
Intel also broke away from its history of making two new chip technologies with each manufacturing cycle. It made three new chip technologies — Broadwell, Skylake, and Kaby Lake — with the 14-nm process.
The chipmaker now isn’t worried about doubling the transistor count with every new chip generation. Instead, Intel is now interpreting Moore’s Law more in line with the economics related to cost-per-transistor, which would drop with scaling. That’s an important part of Moore’s Law.
The 7-nm process could bring radical design changes to chips, which will be much smaller and power efficient. Intel’s planning on using exotic III-V materials like gallium nitride for faster chips that could bring laptops longer battery life.
The company has hinted it would introduce EUV (extreme ultraviolet) tools in the manufacturing process. EUV will help etch finer features on chips, but its implementation has been delayed multiple times.
Competitors like Globalfoundries and Samsung are getting a head-start on the 7-nm process. Globalfoundries has said it will start making 7-nm chips by 2018, and ARM has released tools for the design of 7-nm chips. It’s not clear if Globalfoundries will do 7-nm test runs or start making chips in large volumes.
In July 2015, IBM announced that they had built the first functional transistors with 7 nm technology, using a Silicon- germanium process.
Samsung and Globalfoundries have just started making 10-nm chips like Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 835, which will appear in smartphones soon.