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Broadcom CTO: Moore's Law lives on, at a cost

Posted: 16 Dec 2014     Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:IoT  Moore's Law  7nm  FinFET 

Editor's Note: Rick Merritt once again sat with Broadcom's co-founder and chief technologist to talk about Moore's Law, the Internet of Things and many others.

From time to time, often at the end of the year, we get an opportunity to talk about issues of the day with Henry Samueli, Broadcom's co-founder and chief technologist. Earlier this month we asked his views on the outlook for Moore's Law, the platform wars in the Internet of Things and more. Here's a digest of the interview.

EE Times: Has Broadcom found a path to designing with the emerging FinFET processes?

Henry Samueli: FinFET technology is becoming mature at multiple foundries. We're working on designs in 16nm and expect to be taping out several chips next year. The leading foundries are neck-and-neck aggressively working on it.

We've had a long history with TSMC—they were our fist foundry, and we've been working with them 23 years—so they are typically our partner of choice, but we are working with other foundries as well. As soon as their advanced nodes in 16/14nm become available, we'll take a look. We are open to anyone.

Henry Samueli

Moore's Law is marching on. We'll probably do test chips in 10nm FinFETs next year, and there's talk about how to get to 7nm, so its highly likely we'll get there—maybe well even get to 5nm but that's still not obvious. So there are two to three more generations left. Beyond 5nm is where a lot of scepticism comes into play. The barriers beyond 5nm look pretty tough.

The main thing is the cost curve has flipped upside down. We still get denser, higher performance and lower power chips but unfortunately they are more expensive. This is the first time in the history of the semiconductor business that we make something better and—amazingly enough—it's actually more expensive. That's the only downside.

It puts the onus on us to be more critical of which chips we move to advanced nodes and which will remain in legacy processes for cost reasons. Networking switches and multi-core processors and high- density memories have to go to 16nm and 10nm as fast as they can because they can support higher costs, but consumer-oriented products will stay in 40nm and 28nm processes for quite a while. We can live with that.

The outlook in engineering

EET: What impact do you see the emerging hardware accelerators having on the engineering profession?

Samueli: I think it's fantastic. It's stimulating the entire community, lowering the hurdles to become an entrepreneur. It's crowd-sourced engineering basically.

We are happy to provide platforms, especially in IoT that a two or three person start-up can run with. The onus is on us to provide the platforms, semiconductors and middleware and make it easy for them to write their apps and create IoT devices, whatever they might be.

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