April 1, 2005 4:00 AM PST
FAQ: Forty years of Moore's Law
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browsers that would have been cumbersome only a few years before they were invented. Consumers and analysts regularly complain that progress outstrips their needs, but rarely does anyone revert.
What are the technical problems?
Getting electricity to transistors is difficult, and dissipating the heat generated by these transistors is just as challenging. Some transistor structures, such as the gate oxide, are only a few atoms thick, so they leak electricity.
Where does it go next?
The trend now is to put silicon where it isn't. In the coming years, various start-ups hope to embed sensors in walls, household appliances and even wild animals. Microfluidics chips will let doctors quickly harvest large amounts of patient data with less lab equipment.
What's the economic impact?
Very few industries are this lucky. Car manufacturers have to entice customers with new cup holders or different body types, because engine performance doesn't change that rapidly. Moore noted that if car manufacturers had something like this, cars would get 100,000 miles to the gallon and it would be cheaper to buy a Rolls Royce than park it. (Cars would also be only a half an inch long.)
The fear now is that the treadmill will slow.
"Replacement has always been predicated on our industry's ability to come up with neat new things to buy. That in turn has been predicated on greater integration, allowing richer features due to the progress of Moore's Law," wrote Dan Hutcheson of VLSI Research in his newsletter "The Chip Insider." "Slow it down, and end users are likely to slow their replacement rate. Slow this, and the market slows with it."
Are the economics healthy?
Yes and no. One of the unsavory consequences of tracking Moore's Law is called Rock's Law, named after venture capitalist Arthur Rock. It states that the cost of fabrication facilities doubles every four years. Now fabs cost billions of dollars and the cafeterias in them generally cost more than the old fabs, noted Craig Barrett, Intel's CEO. Most chip companies now do not own their own factories because of the costs.
Wall Street analysts, conference futurists and even some chip executives have regularly declared that the outrageous expenses will lead to the end or a slowing of Moore's Law. Most companies, though, never take the advice: Falling off the pace would just ensure extermination by faster-moving competitors anyway. The chip industry remains a multibillion-dollar industry.What else did Moore predict?
Re-reading the paper after 40 years, Moore noticed that he also predicted the home computer and electronic wristwatches.
In the early '70s, in another article for Electronics Magazine, Moore also forecast the growth of Ovonics Unified Memory, a type of memory made from a similar material as CD disks. In February, Intel said it may come out with Ovonics memory in a few years.
Not everything he's said, however, has come true. He once predicted that wafers, the round disks out of which chips are harvested, would measure 56 inches in diameter about now. They measure 300 millimeters, or 12 inches.
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