Samsung and IBM’s semiconductor breakthrough could extend Moore’s law limit

The new property of potential next-gen chipsets can either double the performance of chips or reduce power use by 85%.
15 December 2021

Samsung and IBM’s semiconductor breakthrough could extend Moore’s law limit. Source: AFP

  • IBM and Samsung are claiming a breakthrough in semiconductor design, revealing a new concept for stacking transistors vertically on a chip
  • With this, both tech giants hope to extend Moore’s Law beyond the nanosheet threshold and waste less energy
  • Other firms, including Intel, are also testing this type of technology

Over the past half-century, Moore’s Law has been the empirical rule driving the development of the semiconductor industry. It laid out the pace at which semiconductor technology advancement would occur. But as we inch closer towards the limits of Moore’s law, more efforts are being done to extend it, with the latest appearing to be a breakthrough design by IBM and Samsung.

During the International Electron Devices Meeting (IEDM) conference in San Francisco this week, both tech giants unveiled a new design for stacking transistors vertically on a chip. For context, current chips use FinFET transistors, where the transistors lie flat on the surface of the silicon, with electricity flowing alongisde.

Samsung and IBM’s design on the other hand is called Vertical Transport Field Effect Transistors (VTFET), where transistors lie perpendicular to one another while current flows vertically. Based on Moore’s law, the number of transistors on a chip will double every two years, however, there is a physical limit on how many can fit onto the chip.

Some industry experts however believe Moore’s Law is no longer applicable. “It’s over. This year that became really clear,” MIT computer scientist Charles Leiserson told MIT Technology Review. Moore’s Law, Leiserson said, was always about the rate of progress, and “we’re no longer on that rate.” 

Even Nvidia CEO Jensen Huang declared way back in 2019 that Moore’s Law is dead, and that now it’s more expensive and more technically difficult to double the number of transistors driving the processing power. That sentiment was also proclaimed a year earlier by Mike Muller, chief technology officer at chip designer Arm.

IBM & Samsung extending Moore’s law limit of semiconductor design

According to IBM and Samsung, its VTFET design has two advantages. Firstly, it allows them to bypass many performance limitations to extend the  Moore’s Law limit beyond IBM’s current nanosheet technology. Second, the design leads to greater current flow. Both companies estimate that VTFET will lead to processors either doubling in speed or using 85% less energy.

To top it off, IBM and Samsung claim the process may one day allow for phones that go a full week on a single charge and make certain energy-intensive tasks, including crypto mining, more power-efficient. Both companies have no plans to commercialize the design just yet.

At the same conference, Intel too unveiled breakthroughs that demonstrate the company is on track to move forward, perhaps past Moore’s Law, beyond 2025. Announcements include key packaging, transistor, and quantum physics breakthroughs that are fundamental to advancing and accelerating computing