Moore's Law has sustained its momentum despite worries of it hitting its physical limits, thanks to materials scientists' progress in getting more computing power out of silicon transistor technology even as they explore alternative materials.
"The truth is we've been modifying the technology every five or seven years for 40 years, and there's no end in sight for being able to do that," says Intel's Mike Mayberry. Still, sooner or later the law will reach physical constraints, and Intel has been staving off this inevitability by shrinking its microprocessor circuitry elements to 22-nm scale. Next year Intel plans a reduction to a 14-nm process, to eventually reach 5-nm by 2019.
Although Moore's Law may ultimately end if transistors cannot be miniaturized beyond a certain point, alternatives to silicon such as indium arsenide, gallium arsenide, gallium nitride, or other III-V materials may come into their own to keep computing power increasing. One of the most promising post-silicon materials is graphene, which, unlike carbon nanotubes, can be fabricated directly as a step in the wafer processing that goes on in chip plants. Future chips could alternatively use silicon photonics, which carry information via light rather than electrons.
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