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Chapter 36

Trends in Microcomputers1

F. Faggin

Technology Trends

Fueling the microcomputer product and market expansion is a rapid technological evolution. Today, the microcomputer market is fundamentally technology-driven, and it is expected to remain in this condition for at least 10 more years. To characterize market trends, it is, therefore, essential to examine first the LSI technology trends and then assess the potential market impact.

The following projections will be limited to the MOS technology, since it represents the fastest-moving and most promising technology for high-performance and large-complexity VLSI circuits.

Each technology is characterized by figures of merit that relate to performance and cost. The most common figures of merit are:

Figure 1 shows past and expected future trends of speed-power product and propagation delay (tpd) for the major generations of state-of-the-art noncomplementary MOS technologies used for LSI production.

Figure 2 shows past and expected future trends of bit density for major generations of dynamic RAMs. The future also shows expected chip size and the expected first year of production for each major new RAM generation.

Figure 3 shows trends of random-logic gate density and how this translates into practical gate complexity and circuit size for major generations of random-logic circuits.

Underscoring these trends are the following considerations and developments. Optical photolithography limits will be reached by

the late seventies and further progress will be made possible by the application to large-scale production of electron beam lithography now under development. Electron beam lithography will make possible the scaling down of structures to micron and submicron sizes with consequent increase in density. The actual physical limitations to a continuing increase in complexity and performance are not expected to result from line-width limitations but rather from breakdown phenomena in semiconductors and from total power dissipation. Breakdown phenomena are usually proportional to electric field strengths; therefore, as the geometry is scaled down, the supply voltage must be reduced. Ultimately, thermal phenomena will limit this voltage to a multiple of KT/q.

A gross estimate of a practical limit for MOS technology is a circuit using complementary MOS technology, operating at a supply voltage of 400 mV, having minimum line width of 1/4m m, dissipating 1 W at 100 MHz of operating frequency, having a size of about 5 cm by 5 cm, and having the complexity of about 100 million gates! This shows that the trends shown in Fig. 1, Fig. 2, and Fig. 3 are still very far from a practical limit and that technological acceleration will continue well beyond the next decade.

I should also point out that an important assumption contained

1Adapted from keynote address to ACM Sigarch Workshop on Future Directions in Computer Architecture, November 1977, Austin, Texas.


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