An ‘empirical law of economics’ from 1965 that still holds true today
In 1965, Gordon Moore, one of Intel’s co-founders, observed that the number of transistors on a microchip was increasing rapidly, exponentially increasing the computing power while decreasing the cost of the chip.
Moore predicted that the number of transistors would double every year for the next decade. In 1975, he revised the prediction to every two years. His prediction has proved to be true – or, as some argue, a self-fulfilling prophecy. The semiconductor industry recently celebrated 50 years of ‘Moore’s Law’, and today’s microchips contain tens of billions of transistors.
The ‘silicon gold rush’
Moore’s Law has propelled the semiconductor industry forward, because it proved to be lucrative to be first-to-market with a new generation of smaller, denser, more powerful chips. And thanks to scaling, the cost of Logic and Memory chips has been reduced so dramatically that it’s now possible to put a chip in practically anything, opening up a world of possibilities for connected and smart devices in IoT (the internet of things). This expansion of possibilities is what continues to drive the growth of the €452 billion (2021) global semiconductor industry.
Delivering higher performance at lower cost with each chip generation, the relentless pace of Moore’s Law has changed the world we live in. Doubling the number of transistors on a chip has enabled consumer products that were once the stuff of dreams.
Innovation doesn’t stop when transistor shrink is no longer feasible. It just becomes more challenging, and, as a result, more profitable if done well.
These next-generation chip designs will include more exotic materials, new packaging technologies and more complex 3D designs. The semiconductor industry will connect engineers from across the entire breadth of physical, chemical, biological and computer sciences in order to realize these new designs. When (and not if) they do, the designs will help to generate consumer products that right now we can’t even conceive of. They will also enable the next big waves of innovation that are on the horizon, such as automated transportation, advanced AI and fast connectivity with 5G.
The future of holistic lithography
What will always be needed is a way to mass produce these designs at the right cost. That’s where the full scope of ASML’s product portfolio will continue to come in, working holistically to ensure affordable shrink. We continue to push our entire system portfolio to new productivity levels and imaging performance, with the highest resolution of EUV lithography enabling tomorrow’s most advanced chips. And in our computational solutions, machine learning and big data will take a prominent role to predict both lithography and metrology processes with high accuracy, helping chipmakers optimize their manufacturing for highest performance at the lowest cost. To complement our product portfolio with even richer data, we are creating an entirely new class of inspection systems that uses multiple e-beams to quickly measure data points across the wafer – an innovation that will help chipmakers control defectivity in manufacturing next-gen chip nodes.
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The ongoing evolution of Moore's Law
It's been more than five decades since Gordon Moore made his first prediction. How has Moore's Law evolved over this time, and what does the future hold?