The New Mobility Era
By Kathryn Ta
Transistors are the fundamental building blocks out of which all modern electronic devices are built. Invented in the early 1950s, transistors are the semiconductor switches that control and amplify electronic signals. As demand has grown over the years for greater performance from these devices, chipmakers have responded by packing wafers with twice as many of the transistors that drive that performance every two years—a trend described by the iconic Moore’s Law. Today, an advanced microprocessor may use up to 3 billion transistors.
Multiplying the number of transistors squeezed onto each chip reduces their unit cost; the accompanying downscaling in transistor dimensions also make them faster. Chips with greater functionality can be fabricated at a cost that makes consumer end products readily affordable.
Sustaining this decrease in cost has steadily fueled the growing sophistication of, and demand for, such products as mobile phones, tablets, video games, and 3D TV. Demand for smart phones and tablets alone is expected to total 5 billion units over the next four years, according to Gartner Dataquest. Gartner reports that these mobile units will also drive development of a strong cloud infrastructure—almost 45 million servers will be needed in the next four years to manage the data from mobile devices.
For the transistor, the rise of these types of products marks the next wave of transistor technology—the mobility age.
In the same way that the personal computer drove technology for processors and memory a decade ago, mobile computing is driving today’s customer technology roadmap. In the past, advances for the personal computer were aimed at continually increasing processing speed. For mobile devices, the focus shifts to extending battery life, while satisfying the ever-increasing demand for enhanced functionality. With historical planar, or two-dimensional scaling approaching its limit, the mobility age is driving new transistor architectures that involve more complex manufacturing technologies and a range of new materials.
In the this video, Dr. Klaus Schuegraf, chief technology officer of all things semiconductor at Applied Materials, goes into more detail on the exciting innovations that are coming to a few billion transistors in your pocket very soon.
—Kathryn Ta is senior director of marketing for the silicon systems group at Applied Materials.