In 1965, Gordon Moore observed that the number of transistors per square inch in an integrated circuit doubles approximately every two years.
Consumers interpret that statement in many ways: that computing power will double every few years, that the cost of the same electronic capability will continuously decline over time, and that power consumption will likewise considerably decrease every two years. For the most part, these statements have held true over the last 50 years, but this relentless march to higher performance and lower cost was not due solely to putting more transistors on the same piece of silicon. Advanced material innovations, which were introduced alongside smaller line widths, also provided enormous value. Atomera’s MST technology is one of the newest material innovations that will continue the advancement of Moore’s Law.
Advanced materials have been instrumental in the history of semiconductors including: strained silicon, copper interconnects, high-k dielectrics and many others. For example, in 1990 Judy Hoyt and Eugene Fitzgerald introduced the concept of straining silicon to stimulate better performance. The technology was developed in the 90’s and went into production by many suppliers between around 2003-2007. Mark Bohr wrote a very interesting article on one of these: The Invention of Uniaxial Strained Silicon Transistors at Intel.
This article gives great insight into both the challenge and opportunity facing Atomera. He says: “Solving all the integration, yield and manufacturing issues with a new material… was quite a challenge, but is something that Intel…excels at.” He then talks about how strained silicon was rapidly adopted by the rest of the industry.
Why today is different
Today the industry is experiencing much greater difficulties continuing the historical rate of extending Moore’s Law. Major semiconductor companies continue to push their flagship chips into expensive, leading-edge FinFET technologies like 7nm. But, because these nodes are so expensive, they aren’t a good choice for many new chip designs. Engineers are looking for ways to improve performance without having to take on the cost burden of the latest new node.
For that reason, more so than ever before in the industry, manufacturers are looking for ways to squeeze more out of existing fabs and processes. That is where MST provides a great solution. MST is an additive technology that can provide benefits on top of other geometric and material improvements. Almost any fab/process can get improvements using MST. And it is more relevant today than it has ever been. In the past, an engineer trying to find higher performance would simply redesign in the newest process node which was being released every two years. Today, only the largest and highest performance chips can justify a redesign into leading-edge process nodes, and those nodes are taking far longer to be released. Designers must be more creative. And MST gives them a new tool to attack the problem.