005_EETE

EETE JUNE 2013

Broadcom: Time to prepare for the end of Moore’s Law By Rick Merritt The part y’s not over yet, but it’s getting time we start thinking about calling a cab. That’s Henry Samueli’s view of the semiconductor industry in a nutshell. The chief technology officer of Broadcom Corp. was shockingly frank in an on-stage interview at an event celebrating the 40th anniversary of Ethernet. “Moore’s Law is coming to an end—in the next decade it will pretty much come to an end so we have 15 years or so,” Samueli told several dozen Silicon Valley technology veterans. “Standard CMOS silicon transistors will stop scaling around 5nm and everything will plateau,” he said. “I am comfortable we will get to terabit networking speeds, but I’m not sure I see a path to petabit speeds,” said the co-founder of one of the world’s largest communications chip companies. “You will see density of network switch boards levelling off and when you see the network progress level off it will change the dynamics of the entire industry,” he said. “We still have another 15 years or so to enjoy, but we need to prepare at some point for a network that doesn’t double in bandwidth every two years,” he added. “Moore’s Law is coming to an end—in the next decade it will pretty much come to an end so we have 15 years or so,” Samueli told several dozen Silicon Valley technology veterans during a panel with execs from Arista, Brocade and HP. Plenty of pundits have predicted the end of CMOS scaling before, but rarely veteran executives of well-established chip vendors with deep technical understanding. Before co-founding Broadcom in 1991, Samueli was a professor of electrical engineering at UCLA, specializing in communications chips. The end of CMOS scaling “has been one of my biggest concerns for some time,” Samueli told EE Times after participating in a panel discussion. “We’ve been talking to customers about this for a while,” he said. The end is not near, says ex-Intel exec Samueli said he has briefed customers that prices for leading edge chips will increase, starting with the 20nm generation due to rising fabrication costs. Market watcher Gartner Inc. recently estimated the average 45,000 wafer/month fab could pay a premium of about $500 million per process node due to the need to use two or more lithographic exposures to etch finer lines. Stacking chips into so-called 3-D ICs promises a one-time boost in their capabilities, “but it’s expensive,” said Samueli. Broadcom expects to use 3-D stacks to add a layer of silicon photonics interconnects to its high end switch chips, probably starting in 2015 or later, he said. “We are talking with potential 3-D IC partners, but we don’t have it all sorted out yet,” he said. Another industry veteran on a panel with Samueli took issue with the Broadcom exec’s predictions. “The real situation is we have 10-15 years visibility and beyond that we just don’t know how we will solve the problems of CMOS scaling yet,” said Dave House, chairman of switch maker Brocade and a veteran of 23 years at Intel. At Intel, House interacted regularly with Intel co-founder Gordon Moore who articulated the theory that roughly every two years chip makers would be able to double the number of transistors on a CMOS chip. “In the 1970s I started preaching Moore’s Law will solve all our problems, and Gordon stopped me and said, ‘Ten years out, I don’t think it can continue,’” House said. “Ten years later, Gordon said again, ‘I only see about ten years here.’ “It became a regular thing at Intel strategic meetings where Gordon would say beyond ten years I don’t see it continuing,” said House who is also an E by training. “As time went on there was always enough money spent and smart scientists” to solve CMOS scaling issues, he said. “It could be we will have a firm barrier at 5 nm, but I wouldn’t bet on it because the consequences will be so severe” he added. In conversation after the event, Bob Metcalfe, one of the original inventors of Ethernet and the keynoter of the event shared his thoughts with Samueli and others. “One of the big things I learned today is Moore’s Law is related to the elasticity of bandwidth—it not only creates the machines that need more bandwidth, it also creates the machines that provide that bandwidth,” he told Samueli. “If you are right and Moore’s Law ends, so will this bandwidth elasticity,” Metcalfe said. 4 Electronic Engineering Times Europe June 2013 www.electronics-eetimes.com


EETE JUNE 2013
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