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Is Moore's Law no more?

It’s no secret that many have been predicting the end of Moore’s Law coming for some time. Over the last decade, there have been several pronouncements that chipmakers were near the limit of the number of transistors that could be crammed onto a silicon chip.

But for the most part, the tenet described by Intel co-founder Gordon Moore in 1965 continued to hold true: The number of transistors on a chip doubles about every two years.

When you consider that the law has held true for 50 years, it has been a remarkably steady law. It explains many of the advances we’ve seen starting with the PC on through today’s mobile computing revolution. The cost of raw computing power has dropped and continues to drop.

The cost per transistor has fallen as well as made large computing enterprises such as the cloud economically feasible.

A recent New York Times article describes how when the Apple iPad 2 hit the market in 2011 for $400, it had more computing power than a 1980s supercomputer that cost $15 million. The number of transistors has gone from 1,000 in 1965 to 20 billion today. Today we have atomic-sized transistors.

But the Times article also talks about a slowdown in chip development that is as much about economics as it is about the limits of technology. Chipmakers such as Intel have struggled to increase sales of chips to smartphone and mobile computer makers.

Intel has been forced to lay off 12,000 employees, 11 percent of its workforce.

The need for speed has been replaced by attempts to reduce power consumption and heat.

While the jury is still out on whether Moore’s Law has indeed reached the end – Intel for one thinks the law still has legs – it is probably wise to track emerging technologies such as quantum computing and the shift to graphene chips and away from silicone. Graphene has the ability to produce smaller and faster transistors that use less power, according to the New York Times article. Graphene is a carbon-based chip.

Another item to track is IEEE’s International Roadmap for Devices and Systems, which is set for release May 12. The roadmap will address issues such as computer systems, architectures and software in addition to chips and other components. IEEE has changed the name of the report to reflect the shift away from Moore’s Law. It previously was called the International Technology Roadmap for Semiconductors.

IEEE sees Moore’s Law breaking down and the new roadmap “will deliver a 15-year vision that encompasses systems and devices, setting a new direction for the future of the semiconductor, communications, [internet of things] and computer industries,” said Paolo Gargini, an IEEE fellow and chairman of the roadmap group.

Interestingly, Intel, despite laying off workers, still sees more advances under Moore’s Law and is no longer participating in IEEE’s roadmap project.

The demise of the law might be premature. Maybe it is five-years from now, maybe 10, but either way, the momentum is accelerating toward new technologies as research increases in other areas and other means of increasing computing power.

But the time is coming when, like with PCs and then mobile computing, we’ll see the next great advance that will change everything that comes after it. Be prepared.

Posted by Nick Wakeman on May 04, 2016 at 8:26 AM


Reader Comments

Tue, May 17, 2016 Jack

Boy, I sure hope it's over. There are otherwise intelligent people , even today, who believe that "technology" is growing exponentially. Of course, these folks can't give even an approximately correct definition of what "technology" is. Can anyone tell me why so many are so invested in such an obviously false idea?

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