Low-Power Chip Contender Emerges

Silicon-on-insulator technology will come on strong over the next few years, a researcher predicts, especially for handheld and other types of mobile devices.
SAN JOSE, Calif. — In today's market for low power solutions, silicon-on-insulator (SOI) should be crowned the technology heavyweight champion, according to Semico Research Corp.

But today, SOI represents only 3 percent of total wafer sales and even smaller in terms of production wafers, according to Semico (Phoenix).

Still, SOI is expected to explode. SOI is able to reduce leakage and power consumption because SOI circuits can operate at lower voltages with the same performance as bulk CMOS technology.

And until recently, the key applications requiring SOI devices have been focused on utilizing the increased switching speed and lower power operation that SOI offers. SOI has been adopted in markets where speed and power are more critical.

"SOI production wafer demand will grow at a CAGR of over 60 percent over the next five years," said Joanne Itow, managing director at Semico. "While SOI is more costly than CMOS, as of today, I have not seen a solution that provides the kind of performance and power results that SOI can produce."

What will drive the growth? New designs for hand-held computing and communication devices requiring lower power are expected to be potential applications for SOI. Other markets are developing around the ability of SOI devices to operate in the elevated temperatures which makes the SOI chips advantageous for diagnostics and controls for automotive and other combustion engines.

"The adoption of SOI for volume applications will depend on the availability of quality SOI wafers and the alternative solutions that are discovered for processing semiconductor products at 45-nm and 32-nm technologies," she said.

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