Evolution Shift
A Future Look at Today
February 2nd, 2007

Moore’s Law Lives On

As most of you know, Moore’s law is named for Gordon Moore, a co-founder of Intel.  In the mid 1960s he predicted that transistor computing power would double every 24 months.  Ultimately, the popular translation of this hypothesis, and subsequent predictions he made, was that in the development of computers, the power of the computer would double every 24 months and the price would decrease by half.  This became a truism in the PC business and for three decades proved to be true.

In recent years people started to suggest that perhaps Moore’s law had run its course.  Such exponential growth could not go on forever.  It started to settle in as fact that we were coming to the end of this remarkable development cycle.  We all now had computers that were infinitely faster and more powerful that the ones we first used 20-30 years ago and we were paying a fraction of the cost of these early machines.  So if Moore’s Law had run its course, that was ok as the low cost speed and power at our finger tips was just fine, thank you very much.

I have written here and here in this blog about innovations and breakthroughs that perhaps suggested that Moore’s Law was not yet dead and that burial was premature.  This week gave strong evidence that the ‘Law’ continues onward.  Intel announced that it has made a breakthrough that would allow chips to leak less current, paving the way for a new generation of faster and much more energy efficient processors. IBM, in a case of dueling company press releases, also said that they, in partnership with Advanced Micro Devices, had made the same breakthrough.

 Evidently, with the increasing miniaturization of the transistor switches on chips, there had been a leakage of current due to thinner insulation.  Chips have been made with silicon insulators (yup, that’s where the name Silicon Valley came from), which allowed for energy leakage.  Increasing the thickness of this silicon insulation lessened the leakage but lowered the electric charge, limiting performance.  This was the problem facing the researchers at Intel.  The solution they came up with was to replace the silicon insulation with a metal insulation called hafnium that not only prevents leakage, but helps with current conductivity.

This may sound simple, but at the miniature size of chip manufacturing the laws of physics come into play in new uncharted ways.  The chip industry is currently building chips in 90-nanometer technology.  This means that approximately 1,000 chips would fit in the width of a human hair.  A year ago Intel reduced the scale to 65 nanometers, which was followed months later by the rest of the industry.  Now, Intel is moving to a minimum feature size of 45 nanometers.  This now brings the industry into an area called molecular computing technologies, where early research indicates that this scale could be reduced even further in the next few years.

It is predicted that these new chips will not only find their way into the computers we use, but also into consumer electronic devices such as cell phones, PDAs and music players, greatly increasing their power and ability to function at much higher levels and at faster rates.  Just when we thought the revolution in speed, power and miniaturization was slowing down, we now can look ahead to it continuing into the foreseeable future.  It really does border on the remarkable and practically unimaginable. It is further evidence that the speed of change is not slowing, but continues to accelerate.

The Information Age has been defined by technology.  Gordon Moore, one of the founding fathers of our current computing technology, set forth a prediction 40 years ago that not only became the map and metrics for the entire computing business, but was incredibly visionary as it continues to this day breaking down the physics of manufacturing.  We are all the beneficiaries of this phenomenon and will be for years.  Moore’s Law Lives!

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