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ISSCC showcases 18 silicon innovations

Posted: 02 Mar 2015     Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:Samsung  Moore's Law  chip design  FinFET  TSMC 

The recent International Solid-State Circuits Conference (ISSCC) has witnessed a plethora of silicon innovations amid the rising costs and complexity associated with Moore's Law. The event unveiled a number of smaller, faster, more media-rich devices and ultra-low power designs that promise the up the ante in terms of technological advancements.

My time at the event started with a reception where for the first time I met Lynn Conway, co-author of one of the landmark texts in chip design. In 1979, Conway's MPC79 event paved the way for quickly turning software files into running chip prototypes, establishing a model of how to spread enabling abstractions quickly to enable innovation.

Samsung described a second generation of its 128Gb 3D NAND flash, a 3bit/cell version with 32 layers now in production on a 68.9mm2 die. The Korean giant is ahead of the pack in dense flash and also is expected to beat TSMC to market with 14/16nm FinFET logic later this year, a fact that help it retain archrival Apple as a foundry customer.

Only a handful of papers at ISSCC described designs using TSMC's 16nm process. Expect many more next year as well as perhaps the first papers of foundry customers using Intel's 14nm FinFET process.

In the hallways at ISSCC, I sought out topic experts to get their opinions on paper sessions they attended. Behzad Razavi of UCLA said he saw a trend to soft radio with transmitters reduced to DSPs linked to small ADCs and antennas, although receivers still require more complex analogue circuits.

You don't have to go to the cloud for analytics, said Chris van Hook, a medical electronics specialist at the imec institute outside Brussels. More self-learning algorithms are getting embedded at node-level chips in papers he saw.

ISSCC

Jim Warnock, a designer of IBM mainframe processors, said he was most fascinated by papers in the low-power digital track. "Some of them are running at a few hertz off picowatts with way different kinds of circuit designs...it's a different world," he said.

Indeed, I ran into one post-doc from Berkeley who told me about start-up Psikick that is designing integrated Internet of Things (IoT) chips that aim to run off energy harvesters. He said he hopes to launch his own IoT chip start-up eventually.

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