What’s next in the evolution of chip technology?

With the end of Moore’s law approaching and Dennard scaling ending, the computing community is increasingly looking at new technologies to enable continued performance improvements. Here’s a glimpse into the exciting frontiers that lie ahead, exploring the future of processors, transistors, and artificial intelligence (AI).

For decades, Moore’s Law has dictated the relentless miniaturisation of transistors on microchips, driving exponential growth in processing power. However, as these components approach atomic size, this trend is nearing its end. But fear not, the future of chip technology is brimming with innovation.

Next-Gen Chip Architectures

3D Stacking and Chiplets

Imagine building a skyscraper instead of a bungalow for chips! 3D stacking allows for vertical integration of multiple chip layers, creating denser and more powerful processors. The traditional 3DIC technology is to stack multiple chips together and use TSV technology to interconnect different chips. At present, 3DIC is mainly used in the stacking structure between memory chips and sensors, while 2.5DIC has been widely used in a variety of high-end chipsets. 3D stacking technology has more advantages in terms of integration, performance, and power consumption. At the same time, it has a higher degree of design freedom and shorter development time. It is reported that Apple’s 3D chip stacking technology SoIC will be used in MacBook, and end products will come out as soon as 2025.

Companies like Samsung are leading the charge in this space, developing high-performance processors for mobile devices. Chiplet technology breaks down complex chips into smaller, modular units that can be combined based on specific needs. This allows for more efficient design and manufacturing, championed by companies like AMD.

Neuromorphic Computing

The term neuromorphic was coined by Carver Mead in the late 1980s and at that time primarily referred to mixed analogue–digital implementations of brain-inspired computing. Inspired by the human brain, neuromorphic chips mimic the structure and function of neural networks. In a neuromorphic computer, both processing and memory are governed by the neurons and the synapses. Unlike traditional processors, these chips excel at pattern recognition and machine learning, making them ideal for AI applications. Companies like Intel are heavily invested in this field, with the potential to revolutionise AI development.

New Materials Beyond Silicon

Silicon has been the workhorse of chip technology, but its limitations are becoming apparent. Researchers are exploring new materials with exciting possibilities. Gallium nitride and even exotic two-dimensional materials like graphene offer faster processing speeds and lower power consumption. Companies like IBM are actively researching these potential game-changers.

Quantum Computing

While still in its early stages, quantum computing holds the potential to solve problems impossible for even the most powerful classical computers. By harnessing the principles of quantum mechanics, these chips could revolutionise fields like drug discovery and materials science. Companies like Google are leading the charge in developing this transformative technology.

A Spectrum of Solutions

The future of chip technology won’t be a one-size-fits-all solution. Instead, we’ll see a diverse landscape of chip architectures, each optimized for specific applications. This will require close collaboration between chip designers, device manufacturers, and software developers to unlock the full potential of these advancements.

The Global Race Continues

The evolution of chip technology is a global race, with countries like China and the European Union investing heavily in research and development. The United States, long a leader in this field, cannot afford to rest on its laurels. Continued investment in basic research, fostering a skilled workforce, and encouraging innovation will be crucial to maintaining its position at the forefront of this critical technology.

The miniaturisation era may be ending, but the exciting future of chip technology is just beginning. With continued innovation and exploration of new frontiers, chips will continue to be the driving force behind technological progress for decades to come.