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Intel admits founder's Law on its last legs

Chip transistors will soon be too small to work, says Chipzilla boffin

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Watch out, semiconductor people -- Moore's Law is about to be repealed. That's the conclusion of one Paul Pakan, a scientist at Moore's own company, Intel, published in an article in a US science journal called... er... Science. The gist of Pakan's comments is that while chip developers have been dutifully doubling the number of transistors in a processor every 18 months, in accordance with Moore's Law, for the process to continue, the transistors will become so small -- ie. they'll be made from under 100 atoms apiece -- that chip designers will no longer be able to control them. Actually, there's nothing new about Pakan's claim. Semiconductor design researchers have known for years that they will soon hit some major barriers to the ongoing miniaturisation of chip technology, not least of which is the fact that chips will soon run out of electrons to fill all the circuits they contain. However, it's curious that someone from Intel, of all companies, has actually gone on record to admit it. That said, there is something oddly anti-Malthusian about chip design. Just as Malthus predicted a couple of centuries back that by now we'd no longer be able to produce enough food to sustain population growth, early claims that semiconductor technology would come to a standstill have proved false, not just through the miniaturisation of chip fabrication processes but by the use of copper and silicon-on-insulator technologies. Still, even allowing for the arrival of similar approaches to extend process technology to 0.1 micron and beyond, there is an ultimate physical limit on the size of a transistor, as Pakan points out, so the sooner they can get quantum and/or optical processors to work, the better. ®

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