Moore's Law turned 50 this week, providing an opportunity to look back on the march toward ever-smaller transistors. David Kanter's latest article at Real World Technologies does just that, discussing the innovations that have helped Intel transition to finer fabrication processes. It's not just a history lesson, though. Kanter also plays prophet, predicting how the chip giant will pursue future generations.
According to Kanter, Intel will adopt Quantum Well Field Effect Transistors (QWFETs) at the 10-nm node. With the right materials and geometry, he says, QWFETs can deliver good performance at lower operating voltages than the "tri-gate" FinFETs used today. Where FinFETs perform well down to about 0.7V, QWFETs can apparently scale down to 0.5V.
The article provides some nerdy details on quantum wells that are over my head. Kanter goes so far as to name the specific materials he expects Intel to use, and he suggests that QWFETs could share die area with more traditional transistors. This may not be a wholesale transition.
The predictions come with a timeline: Kanter thinks QWFETs will debut as part of Intel's 10-nm process late this year or early next. But he concedes they could appear later, at the 7-nm node, where TSMC, Samsung, and GlobalFoundries are also expected to dip into the quantum well. Given history, it certainly wouldn't be out of character for Intel to adopt new transistor technology before everyone else.