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Chip circuits shrink faster than expected

The Semiconductor Industry Association (SIA) has called for a more aggressive push to smaller circuit sizes.

While the majority of today's PCs use chips with a circuit size of either 180 nanometres (0.18 microns) or 130 nanometres, the industry plans to deliver 90-nanometre circuits by 2004 and 22-nanometre circuits by 2016, said the SIA in the 2001 edition of International Technology Roadmap for Semiconductors.

These figures surpass the group's previous roadmap, released in 1999, which called for 100-nanometre circuits by 2005, shrinking to 35 nanometres by 2014. To put that into perspective, the width of a human hair is about 100,000 nanometres.

The roadmap looks 15 years into the future and provides the industry with guidance about what to plan for. The SIA consults 800 semiconductor experts from around the world to complete the report.

Shrinking the size of circuits has led to dramatic improvements in chip performance during the past decade. As circuits shrink, the performance of chips can be increased without greatly increasing power consumption or the amount of heat generated.

Companies can also get more chips from each silicon wafer by using a smaller process, which helps them keep prices down. Intel said earlier this year that the 0.13-micron manufacturing process allows it to cut approximately twice as many chips as the 0.18-micron process from a wafer of the same size.

"In the past, this [the roadmap] has been a major synchronisation method for the industry," said Nathan Brookwood, a principal analyst at consultancy Insight 64. "You can do things that aren't on that roadmap, but you would be swimming against the tide."

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