At The ConFab 2014: Do we still need Moore’s Law?

By Shannon Davis, Web Editor

Many questions were in the air today at the 10th annual ConFab 2014, and perhaps one of the most interesting was raised during Dr. Roawen Chen of Qualcomm’s opening keynote, “What’s On Our Mind” when he asked, “Do we need Moore’s Law? Should we pursue it unconditionally?

The ConFab, held in Las Vegas, NV at The Encore, this week brings together over a hundred different top executives and key decision makers in the semiconductor and equipment supplier industries. Throughout the week, The ConFab allows a space for discussion in conference sessions as well as private meetings, allowing for much-needed industry collaboration.

We’ve often postulated extending Moore’s Law. We’ve even heard that it’s already dead.

Dr. Chen began his keynote with absolute certainty:

Pictured: Dr. Roawen Chen, Senior Vice President of Global Operation at Qualcomm

Pictured: Dr. Roawen Chen, Senior Vice President of Global Operation at Qualcomm

“The ride with Moore’s Law will eventually end,” he said, “but not because of a technical reason, but because of a financial reason.”

“I don’t think there will be enough volume for 7nm and below to make it a good ROI,” he continued.

He did, however, say that if EUV was ready tomorrow, it would change his outlook.

Dr. Chen remained quite positive that the semiconductor industry would flourish in spite of this and gave several reasons why this would be the case, chief among them was the growth of mobile applications and the resulting impact on the semiconductor industry.

Not everything demands Moore’s Law,” he said. “A lot of future, killer apps don’t need leading edge. You don’t need to migrate everything to leading edge.”

Given the current and growing complexity of consumer devices, in particular mobile, the need for new innovation and packaging solutions is bigger than ever, Dr. Chen explained.

“Innovation always wins,” he said. “We’ve been using the same playbook for many, many years. We have to adapt to the new reality.”

Ten years ago, he said, the enterprise was predictable and stable. PCs were the biggest semiconductor consumer – volume was higher, but seasonal. Smartphones, however, have become a lifestyle statement product, not just an IT device, and the demand has become more volatile.

Another change the semiconductor industry must adapt to is a new set of key industry drivers. The PC industry was driven by computing hardware, whereas the mobile ecosystem is driven by smartphone consumer data, not processing power, he explained. Surviving in a post-Moore’s Law world requires deriving value from downstream in the semiconductor ecosystem. Deeper collaboration within the supply chain is more necessary than ever before, Dr. Chen explained.

“The bull whip effect is also more pronounced in the mobile era,” said Dr. Chen, “and volatile customer demand amplifies the effect further up the supply chain.”

He also recommended a roadmap exchange on technology and manufacturing readiness.

Ultimately, while he has heard many in the industry sound apocalyptic-esque warnings, he and his Qualcomm colleagues remain optimistic.

“’The end is near’? I don’t believe so,” he said. “There is still plenty of opportunity for new innovation.”

Attendees of The ConFab 2014 at the morning keynote, sponsored by Brewer Science, on Monday, June 23, 2014.

Attendees of The ConFab 2014 at the morning keynote, sponsored by Brewer Science, on Monday, June 23, 2014.

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