Moore’s Law: Dead or Alive

PORTLAND, Ore. — Few people know that McGraw-Hill invented the moniker “Electronics” in 1930 for its magazine on that subject. I joined Electronics on its 50th birthday, for which we did a special bound-book history of electronics including Gordon Moore's amazing accomplishments founding Fairchild Semiconductor and later co-founding Intel (with Andy Grove and Robert Noyce, see photo). However, it was on Electronics 35th birthday that Gordon Moore contributed an article titled “Cramming more components onto integrated circuits.” In that article he speculated that the number of transistors on chips would “double every 12 months,” which in 1975 he revised to every two years. Moore made no reference to a “law”, but Caltech professor Carver Mead, who literally invented very-large-scale-integration (VLSI), popularized the notion of “Moore's law” as governing the way VLSI would grow the future of electronics.

Since then, Moore's law has become a self-fulfilling prophecy, as engineers around the world work feverishly to keep the growth of electronics exponential. Organizations like the International Technology Roadmap for Semiconductors (ITRS) work behind the scenes to identify the hurdles that will need to be surmounted in order to keep Moore's law on track.

Moore explains the significance of his law's 50th anniversary. (Source: Intel)

The enabler for Moore's law was the near simultaneous invention of the integrated circuit by Jack Kilby at Texas Instruments and Robert Noyce at Fairchild, which matured into the complementary metal oxide semiconductor (CMOS) invented by Frank Wanlass in 1963 at Fairchild.

Since then, Moore's law has guided not only the electronics industry, but also nearly every other new industry caught up in the riches to be gained from keeping growth on an exponential curve. In the electronics field Moore's law is now applied to all aspects of size, cost, density, and speed of components including overall performance, memory capacity, sensor sensitivity, clock speed and even the number of pixels in a imager-chip.

However, Moore's law has begun to fail in many of these diverse areas, the most pronounced being clock speed which has been pegged at 3-GHz max since about 2004 (see photo). Other areas of exponential growth have also started to level off. In fact, last month in IEEE's Spectrum Gordon Moore himself said “I see Moore’s law dying here in the next decade or so.”

To read the rest of this article, visit EBN sister site EETimes.

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