Why is Intel struggling to keep up with Moore’s law? Has the end of Moore’s Law been reached?

First, it is not Intel that keep Moore’s Law alive.

Let me introduce you to ASML, probably one of the world’s most unknown companies that has changed the world.ASML has an 85% market share in the lithography market, with Canon and Nikon sharing the rest of the market share. I can almost guarantee that all smartphones, computers or other things that contain chips were made with ASML lithography devices. In other words, ASML sells machines that make chips to chip manufacturers.

Chips (memory, logic, etc.) are produced by two groups of manufacturers.

The first group develops and produces logic chips and is called Integrated Device Manufacturers (IDM). Two of the largest IDMs are Intel and Samsung. The second group consists of wage-makers, the so-called Foundries. Foundry manufacturers do not design chips, but produce chips for other companies. A famous example of a foundry company is TSMC, which provides chips for companies such as NVIDIA, Apple, AMD, Qualcomm, etc. manufactures.

Although these manufacturers are responsible for the entire production of chips (called wafers at this stage), a crucial phase of this production is called lithography (exposure phase).

ASML machines expose the wafers with very small wavelengths to produce tiny transistors and metal layers for the ICs. Without ASML machines, we can forget the joy of fast, small, low-cost and energy-efficient chips that we enjoy every day.

As an explanation of how ASML maintains Moore’s law, I would like to introduce you to Rayleigh’s equation:

where CD (Critical Dimension) is the smallest feature size that the system can print, the wavelength of the light used is NA is the numerical aperture of the system lens, and k1 is known as the resolution factor and takes into account all other process variables.

The improvement of the resolution (and thus the preservation of Moore’s law) then leads to the use of shorter wavelengths of light, to an increase in numerical aperture and / or to the reduction of k1.

With DUV (Deep UV) light (A = 193 nm), ASML was able to reach ever smaller CD’s by increasing NA (various lenses or wet diving with water) and using tricks with multiple patterns.After a while, however, you can only achieve something with THE help of DUV light.

When we return to Rayleigh’s equation, the next obvious step would be to reduce the wavelength.ASM’s commitment to maintaining Moore’s Law has prompted them to introduce EUV (Extreme UV) light (a = 13.5 nm). With EUV, however, there are a number of new challenges they have never encountered before (air and lens absorb EUV light and force them to go into a vacuum and use mirrors), something I will not elaborate on in this answer.

In the end, ASML has repeatedly managed to prove that Moore’s Law still exists and will probably remain so for the next ten years.

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