Moore’s Law threatened by lithography woes

October 9, 2012

Extreme ultraviolet lithography tool (credit: Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory/Wikimedia Commons)

Moore’s Law is losing steam due to delayed introduction of next-generation extreme ultraviolet lithography (EUV), said experts at the 2012 International Symposium on Extreme Ultraviolet Lithography, EE Times reports.

EUV systems need light sources that are nearly 20 times more powerful than the ones used today to lay down patterns on next-generation chips that target sizes as small as 14 nm. Lithography experts said that they hope to have the 200W EUV light sources by 2014 — but it may take more time.

Researchers have improved the power of light sources 20-fold over the past three years. But they must make similar heroic improvements in the next two years before EUV is ready for production, said Kurt Ronse, IMEC’s director advanced lithography program. The group called for development of 500-1,000W EUV light sources by 2016.

As a result of the EUV delays “the [semiconductor] industry is no longer taking full steps, but implementing half nodes,” Ronse said. “They still call it 14 nm but it’s probably more like 16 or 17 nm,” he said.

For example, SRAM cells won’t get a full 50 percent shrink at 14 nm without EUV, Ronse said. That’s because multiple patterning has some limits in how closely it can place features.

Intel also recently said it expects to make 14-nm chips next year and could make 10-nm processors in 2015 using existing immersion lithography. Without EUV, Intel believes it will have to write as many as five immersion patterns on a chip which will take more time and money but is still economical.