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Hey Big Spender! (For Semiconductor R&D, That’s Intel)

Nvidia, Samsung, and TSMC are dialing R&D spending way up, but Intel dominates

1 min read
Close up of an Intel Core X processor
Photo: Intel

The semiconductor industry in general is increasing its investments in research and development, but it will take a long time to challenge Intel’s dominant role.

That’s the conclusion of a report by IC Insights. The research firm indicated that overall industry spending, considering the top ten semiconductor companies (see chart, below), was up 6 percent in 2017 over 2016 to US $34 billion. Intel increased its already high levels of R&D spending by 3 percent to more than $13 billion—that Silicon Valley company invests more in R&D annually than the next five companies—Qualcomm, Broadcom, Samsung, Toshiba, and TSMC—combined. MediaTek, Micron, Nvidia, and SK Hynix rounded out the top ten list.

Beyond the top ten, IC Insights reported that eight more companies—NXP, TI, ST, AMD, Renesas, Sony, Analog Devices, and Global Foundries—spent more than $1 billion on semiconductor R&D last year.

The fastest growing R&D budget, the research firm said, is over at Intel’s Silicon Valley neighbor, Nvidia, whose nearly $1.8 billion R&D investment in 2017 topped its 2016 numbers by 23 percent. TSMC, Samsung, and SK Hynix also gave big boosts to their research budgets, while Qualcomm and Toshiba made cuts [see chart, below].

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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
Green

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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