Moore’s law

Intel recently posted a $10,000 dollar reward for a mint copy of the April 1965 issue of Electronics magazine which was won by a Briton man.

Why was this issue so important? It was the magazine where the co-founder of Intel, Gordon Moore, first stated what is now referred to as Moore’s Law. Moore’s Law has accurately predicted the advancements in semiconductor technology since then.

What exactly is Moore’s Law? Ripped straight from Electronics magazine:

The complexity for minimum component costs has increased at a rate of roughly a factor of two per year … Certainly over the short term this rate can be expected to continue, if not to increase. Over the longer term, the rate of increase is a bit more uncertain, although there is no reason to believe it will not remain nearly constant for at least 10 years. That means by 1975, the number of components per integrated circuit for minimum cost will be 65,000. I believe that such a large circuit can be built on a single wafer.

What does this mean? Strictly speaking, approximately every 18 months the most complex processor available on the market has double the number of transistors on it as did the most complex processor available 18 months previously. This “law” isn’t so much of a law and more of a prediction based on past data….but it has basically held true since Moore made his prediction. The capabilities of a processor are largely determined by the number of transistors available to it, thus this is an amazing thing to think about. Remember that this is an exponential increase. Think of the increase in capabilities of computers over the past 20 years….the increase in capabilities of computers over the next 20 years will be many times that!

Current computer processors are fabricated with their features at the 130 nanometer and 90 nanometer scales. Companies everywhere are working fervidly to advance to smaller scales such as 50 and 30 nanometers. Within 10-20 years however, we will have approached a serious limit…the size of atoms.

The importance of the size of the transistors is related to how chips are manufactured. There is a limit to the total size of such chips, so the way to increase the number of transistors is to shrink their size. You can’t just add on more transistors without making the chip extremely expensive to manufacture.

Current CPU’s like the Intel Pentium 4 and AMD’s Athlon64 have from 50-100 million transistors. Within a decade processors will have from 10 to 100 times as many transistors depending on exactly what you define as the doubling time….18 months or three years.

There are many ideas about ways to get around the atomic size limit. Moore seems to favor just devising ways to increase chip size.

So is there a limit? Krauss and Starkman at Case Western Reserve University and CERN, have deduced that the computing power of any device in the universe is finite and put a limit on Moore’s Law not being able to continue for more than 600 years. We’ve only used up 40 of those.