The End of Moore’s Law?  Why It Matters

By Shlomo Maital  


In 1965 the (later) co-founder of Intel, Gordon Moore, published a scientific paper, in which he made the following claim:   “Over the history of computing hardware, the number of transistors in a dense integrated circuit doubles approximately every two years.”   This was quite amazing, because integrated circuits were very new and there was not much history of ‘computing hardware’.   And how right he proved. (See the diagram).  In 1971,  around when Intel was born, there were 2,300 transistors on a single chip.  Today?  With 10-core microprocessors,  there are some 2.6 billion!   That is almost exactly 21 doublings, in the 43 years since 1971.  How in the world did Gordon Moore know???

   This powerful exponential curve,  which presumes a 42 per cent annual compounded rate of growth (of the number of transistors on a chip), has completely changed our lives,  placing a cell phone device in our hands that has the power of a major computer.  It has placed chips into cars, refrigerators, and nearly everything.  It has greatly reduced the price of electronic devices, because the same exponential curve that expands the number of transistors per microprocessor, also lowers exponentially (negative exponential) the cost, very rapidly.

     In “Tapeout”, the magazine of the Israeli semiconductor industry, the latest issue asks whether Moore’s Law is about to “exit” (R.I.P., die, stop)?    In a sense it already has.  Intel’s 10 core microprocessor is impressive (basically 10 microprocessors in one) but the truth is, many of those ‘cores’ do not operate at any given moment.  Intel simply shifted its marketing from “hey, count the megahertz” to “hey, count the number of cores”. 

   However, if microprocessor technology truly does ‘hit the wall’, like a marathon runner, and a limit to packing transistors onto a chip is reached,  then an entire industry will be in crisis.  It will have to find a new technology, to restore the exponential growth, on which profits and revenue are built.  And shifting to an entirely new silicon technology – perhaps chips based on cell biology? —  will be expensive, risky, difficult and will lead to a major shakeout in the industry, as small disruptive startups rise to the fore to replace big lumbering established firms. 

    In “Tape-out”, the experts are divided about the alleged end of Moore’s Law.  After all, its ‘end’, demise, has been predicted now for decades.  But as the technology approaches and passes 10 nanometers, it may be true that a physical limit is being reached.  

   Watch the semiconductor industry closely.  Repeal of Moore’s Law will affect all of us, in so many ways. 

   “Moore’s law” is the observation that, over the. The observation is named after Gordon E. Moore, co-founder of the Intel Corporation, who described the trend in his 1965 paper. His prediction has proven to be accurate, in part because the law now is used in the semiconductor industry to guide long-term planning and to set targets for research and development.[4] The capabilities of many digital electronic devices are strongly linked to Moore’s law: quality-adjusted microprocessor prices,[5] memory capacity, sensors and even the number and size of pixels in digital cameras.[6] All of these are improving at roughly exponential rates as well