Overlooking the inky calm of Monterey Bay, the lights of tethered boats in the marina reflecting in the shimmering waters below, Wally Rhines delivered a mesmerizing after-dinner keynote on Thursday night, a gift to an intimate group of EDPS attendees assembled in the low-slung Monterey Bay Yacht Club adjacent to the municipal pier.
It was textbook Rhines: a detailed re-telling of the last 50 years of the semiconductor industry with a log-log analysis of the validity of various versions of Moore’s Law, a dizzying display of data on shrinking feature sizes, and an adamant admonition that the law is, in fact, an economic learning curve with applicability that extends beyond the narrow confines of electronics.
From there, Rhines talked at length about what constitutes a process node, the gulf between Engineering’s obsession with gate length and Marketing’s obsession with world domination, and how reality got so out of whack with message that in recent years the ITRS had to step in and put an end to a war of claim versus counter-claim. Nonetheless, per Rhines, one company’s 16nm today is another company’s 14nm, as the murky physics behind the labels obfuscates to confuse the customer and confound the competition.
But the real core of Rhines’ talk was still to come: He addressed the issue of margins, head-on, across the entire spectrum of the semiconductor food chain, one micro-segment at a time. To do this to completion required many more charts, extensive additional analysis, and a lot more time. Yet, even as the hands of the clock over the bar inched well past 9 pm, no one in the room budged, yawned, or dozed – so complete was Rhines’ mastery of the material and command of the context. It was brilliant.