Plans for Next-Gen Chips Imperiled

Dim lights casting a shadow on extreme-ultraviolet lithography's debut date

7 min read

Everyone in the chip industry knows that the giddy, exponential curve they've been riding for decades can't go on forever. Some day a ”showstopper” will finally appear, signaling an end to the amazing pace at which microprocessors, memory, and other chips have become denser and faster without getting more expensive. Nobody ever expects that dreaded day to be right around the corner. But now, sobering revelations about a futuristic, multibillion-dollar chip-making initiative have thrown a shiver through the industry, raising concerns that the showstopper may be closer than anyone had thought.

As recently as March, researchers were still confident that a technique called extreme ultraviolet (EUV) photolithography would be ready in 2011 to start churning out cutting-edge logic chips. But at an advanced lithography symposium held that month by the photonics society SPIE, experts from IBM and its development partners AMD, Micron Technology, and Qimonda said they do not expect EUV to be ready for its intended debut. Others in the industry, though less blunt, say progress made in the coming year will make or break the deadline.

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Two Startups Are Bringing Fiber to the Processor

Avicena’s blue microLEDs are the dark horse in a race with Ayar Labs’ laser-based system

5 min read
Diffuse blue light shines from a patterned surface through a ring. A blue cable leads away from it.

Avicena’s microLED chiplets could one day link all the CPUs in a computer cluster together.


If a CPU in Seoul sends a byte of data to a processor in Prague, the information covers most of the distance as light, zipping along with no resistance. But put both those processors on the same motherboard, and they’ll need to communicate over energy-sapping copper, which slow the communication speeds possible within computers. Two Silicon Valley startups, Avicena and Ayar Labs, are doing something about that longstanding limit. If they succeed in their attempts to finally bring optical fiber all the way to the processor, it might not just accelerate computing—it might also remake it.

Both companies are developing fiber-connected chiplets, small chips meant to share a high-bandwidth connection with CPUs and other data-hungry silicon in a shared package. They are each ramping up production in 2023, though it may be a couple of years before we see a computer on the market with either product.

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