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How Chip Designers Are Breaking Moore's Law


The Snapdragon Flight mini drone, one of world’s smallest 4K drones.

Two of the biggest semiconductor companies made announcements last week that were driven by specialized computing: the transforming of specific software tasks into physical silicon chips, instead of depending on an ever-faster, do-it-all central processing unit.

Credit: K.C. Alfred/San Diego Union-Tribune/Zuma Press

Two of the biggest semiconductor companies made announcements last week that might seem unrelated, but are linked. Intel announced its acquisition of Israeli startup Mobileye, which makes chips and software for self-driving cars. Nvidia announced the latest generation of a system intended to speed up machine learning, which is necessary for artificial intelligence.

Both were driven by "specialized computing," that is, the transforming of specific software tasks into physical silicon chips instead of depending on an ever-faster do-it-all CPU, or central processing unit. It has existed in some form or another for decades, but it has lately become the driving force behind pretty much everything cool in technology, from artificial intelligence to self-driving cars. Why? Because those CPUs aren't getting faster at the pace they once were. Moore's Law is dying.

Moore's Law is the notion that, every two years or so, the number of transistors in a chip doubles. Its popular conception is that computers keep getting faster, smaller and more power-efficient. That isn't happening the way it used to. "It's not like Moore's Law is going to hit a brick wall—it's going to kind of sputter to an end," says Daniel Reed, chair of computational science and bioinformatics at the University of Iowa.

As Intel and the other chip foundries spend fortunes to keep the wheel turning, chip designers across the industry are finding creative ways to continue at the old pace of Moore's Law, and in many cases increase device performance even more quickly.

 

From The Wall Street Journal
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