Advanced Silicon Microelectronics/ULSI

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The June 2009 Viewpoints was the last for Explorer's Advanced Silicon Microelectronics/ULSI technology area. The microelectronics manufacturing industry has matured to a level at which Explorer can better serve its clients by monitoring more specific areas of technological advancement in the microelectronics industry.

Explorer analysts will continue to monitor developments and opportunities in the advanced silicon microelectronics industry in Explorer's other technology areas and provide application- and market-specific detail and perspective that will better suit our clients' needs. For example, Explorer's Nanoelectronics technology area addresses the issues of chip size and performance in terms of the continuing expectations of Moore's law, Organic Electronics provides an overview of organic semiconductors and the emerging field of printed electronics, Photovoltaics covers the increasingly important issue of refined silicon supply, and Portable Electronic Devices and Pervasive Computing provide timely application-specific perspective surrounding low-power computer chips.

Thank you for your support of this area through the years. The Web site will remain active for clients to have access to the previous Viewpoints and the Technology Map throughout their subscription period.


Archived Viewpoints

About This Technology

July 2008

Integrated circuits have, since their commercial introduction in 1961, become the enabling technology for virtually all modern data-transfer and storage operations, from electrically controlled domestic appliances to complex telecommunications networks. The dramatic progress from silicon chips containing only a few semiconductor junctions to today's state-of-the-art circuits containing millions of transistors has resulted from the evolutionary refinements in microfabrication processes and materials and the development of a system and software infrastructure to take full advantage of these devices.

Ultra-large-scale integration generally refers to today's leading-edge chip densities, although even higher levels of integration are already in development. The spread of IC-based systems into every facet of modern life is limited at the one extreme by the economic feasibility of providing electronically controlled functions and at the other by the technological limits on the quantity of data that researchers can manipulate. At the same time, higher integration levels are reducing the cost of processing power (cost per operation or instruction).

Observers have historically predicted the development of future generations of integrated circuits with fair accuracy, based on projecting constant, incremental improvements in both technology and economies of scale. These development cycles—which Moore's law (for Gordon Moore of Intel) embodies—have held fast for the 30 or so years that the semiconductor industry has been in existence. But more recent observations indicate that these cycles are gradually shortening, challenging the assumption that current technology will continue to yield to research and development in a predictable way. Pessimistic commentators suggest the approach of a technology "wall" defined by the smallest features that can be controllably etched to form individual transistors. However, so far, the ingenuity of semiconductor scientists appears far from exhausted. Novel technologies, new materials, and creative chip architectures will likely emerge to continue the advancement of integrated circuits.