According to the technology research company iSuppli, Moore’s Law is becoming hampered by the high cost of semiconductor manufacturing equipment.

Moore’s Law states that the number of transistors that can be placed on an integrated circuit, or chip, doubles every two years. For more than four decades, Moore’s Law has remained on track.

But the equipment necessary to manufacture super-dense chips is extremely expensive.

"The usable limit for semiconductor process technology will be reached when chip process geometries shrink to be smaller than 20-18 nanometer (nm) nodes," said Len Jelinek, director and chief analyst, semiconductor manufacturing for iSuppli, in a prepared statement. "At those nodes, the industry will start getting to the point where semiconductor manufacturing tools are too expensive to depreciate with volume production."

Engineers within the cable industry frequently mention Moore’s Law when discussing advancements in semiconductor processing. Certainly, the reliability of technology advancements, based on Moore’s Law, makes it easier to calculate future speeds and capital expenditures.

But cable is not on the leading edge of Moore’s Law in the same way as companies like Intel and Qualcomm. The cable industry tends to operate within the high-volume segment of node geometry – from around 55-180 nm, said Danial Faizullabhoy, CEO of BroadLogic. (For recent news of a denser QAM chip from BroadLogic, click here.)

"The highest volumes are in 90 nm and 130 nm," said Faizullabhoy. However, Moore’s Law is still relevant because "cable will leverage advances made in silicon on a continuous basis," he said.

On the cutting edge of semiconductor process technology, scientists are beginning to stack more transistors in a three-dimensional arrangement on the chip. And researchers are exploring replacing the transistors themselves with optical components.

"Until the optics or 3D become the mainstay, they will probably not be leveraged into the cable industry," said Faizullabhoy. "It has to be a very stable, high-volume platform."

For the Intels and the Qualcomms, iSuppli predicts that once process geometries shrink to the 20-18 nm nodes, which it predicts will happen in 2014, manufacturing costs will disrupt Moore’s Law.

"The semiconductor industry will be living with historical generations of technology longer than it did before," Jelinek said.

– Linda Hardesty

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