The Rumors of My Death have Been Greatly Exaggerated
Hello and welcome to the first installment of Tech Times. This installment will be discussing Moore’s Law. What is Moore’s Law? It was an observation by Gordon Moore, cofounder of Intel, stating that the number of transistors on a device will double about every 2 years, or 18 months (there is some debate over the exact time frame in his original comment). This prediction was made in 1965, and it has held true for almost 50 years. In appreciating the impact of this statement, the first thing to understand is what a transistor is. In the simplest terms, it is an on/off switch. You know all those 1s and 0s people talk about, it’s on or off. That is what transistors do.
So is there an end to Moore’s Law? The short answer is yes. At least if technology does not radically change. The currently available processors use 22nm technology. Intel and other processor manufacturers are moving toward 16 and even 14nm technology. As a frame of reference, the 4004 processor that was made in 1971 and it was based on 10,000nm technology (a typical human hair is 100,000nm). So in just over 40 years the thickness of a line (also known as a trace) on a processor is over 450 times smaller. Another item is the number of transistors. That same 4004 processor had 2,300 transistors compared to today’s processors with approximately 1.86 billion transistors. So what will stop Moore’s Law? Silicon, the very item that made it, will also stop it. As we get smaller the traces become too close together and electrons, which in the scale of current processor technology are large and heavy, will jump the gap between lines. This is one key reason Intel developed their 3D transistor. But this cannot hold back the death of Moore’s Law. You can only get so small. What is that number, I don’t know. How long before it dies, once again I don’t know. There are people much smarter than me working on keeping it moving forward, and maybe they will find a way to get 20 more years out of it (think photons, light – replacing electrons, electricity).
But as Gordon Moore said, and is often left out “for the foreseeable future”. He knew it would not go on forever, and 50 years is quite a long time.