Next month, the worldwide semiconductor industry will formally acknowledge what has become increasingly obvious to everyone involved: Moore's law, the principle that has powered the information-technology revolution since the 1960s, is nearing its end.
A rule of thumb that has come to dominate computing, Moore's law states that the number of transistors on a microprocessor chip will double every two years or so — which has generally meant that the chip's performance will, too. The exponential improvement that the law describes transformed the first crude home computers of the 1970s into the sophisticated machines of the 1980s and 1990s, and from there gave rise to high-speed Internet, smartphones and the wired-up cars, refrigerators and thermostats that are becoming prevalent today.
None of this was inevitable: chipmakers deliberately chose to stay on the Moore's law track. At every stage, software developers came up with applications that strained the capabilities of existing chips; consumers asked more of their devices; and manufacturers rushed to meet that demand with next-generation chips. Since the 1990s, in fact, the semiconductor industry has released a research road map every two years to coordinate what its hundreds of manufacturers and suppliers are doing to stay in step with the law — a strategy sometimes called More Moore. It has been largely thanks to this road map that computers have followed the law's exponential demands.
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