Pity the makers of memory. Prices for DRAM, the principal memory in computers, have fallen more than 80 percent in the last two years, dropping below cost [see ”Plummeting Prices”]. With cash running out, way too much production capacity, and markets in recession, DRAM makers are scaling back fast. Analysts say a wave of consolidation is needed to shed capacity. But no country wants its own industry to disappear. So governments in Germany and Taiwan spent the start of 2009 orchestrating bailouts, while in South Korea big banks came to the rescue. Many analysts are concerned that the bailouts will prolong the pain of consolidation. In the end, will there be only a few DRAM makers left standing? ”I’ve never believed [the DRAM industry] will just consolidate to two or three companies,” says Nam Hyung Kim, chief DRAM analyst at market research firm iSuppli, in El Segundo, Calif. Following each orgy of oversupply [see ”Capital Expenditure Cycles”], he notes, chipmakers have exited the field, only to be replaced by others as DRAM becomes profitable again. Look for a Chinese entrant within the next five years, Kim says.

Third Quarter 2008 Market Share (US $6.685 billion total)

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3D-Stacked CMOS Takes Moore’s Law to New Heights

When transistors can’t get any smaller, the only direction is up

10 min read
An image of stacked squares with yellow flat bars through them.
Emily Cooper

Perhaps the most far-reaching technological achievement over the last 50 years has been the steady march toward ever smaller transistors, fitting them more tightly together, and reducing their power consumption. And yet, ever since the two of us started our careers at Intel more than 20 years ago, we’ve been hearing the alarms that the descent into the infinitesimal was about to end. Yet year after year, brilliant new innovations continue to propel the semiconductor industry further.

Along this journey, we engineers had to change the transistor’s architecture as we continued to scale down area and power consumption while boosting performance. The “planar” transistor designs that took us through the last half of the 20th century gave way to 3D fin-shaped devices by the first half of the 2010s. Now, these too have an end date in sight, with a new gate-all-around (GAA) structure rolling into production soon. But we have to look even further ahead because our ability to scale down even this new transistor architecture, which we call RibbonFET, has its limits.

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