Thursday, September 20, 2007

Now, even Moore's Law is changing

A new century has meant new rules for most aspects of the IT business. Now, even the sacred 'Moore's Law' of microprocessors is changing, by the admission of Gordon Moore who created it.

First, here's a backgrounder on what Moore's Law is. It is the maxim which declares a doubling of transistors on a computer chip roughly every two years, therefore providing a double increase in speed and performance.

For 40 years, since 1965, Gordon Moore created this principle and it has held true scientifically. However, the fact that the space on a 'chip' is finite, means that at some point it won't be possible to continue in that direction.It is expected that within a decade, or so, that will happen.

In non-scientific terms, what this means is that PC processors from Intel have doubled in performance every two years and it ingeniously also applies to other technology gadgets.

Back in the early nineties, this rule worked perfectly for me, as my 33MHz 486 PC was replaced by a 66MHz Pentium two years later, then replaced by a 120MHz Pentium two further years afterwards.

Then, I just stopped counting megahertz, and it seems that Intel stopped too, but that's another story! Anyhow, Moore now predicts that processor performance it won't grow by that somewhat exact margin anymore. It even seems like it won't grow at all in the conventional methods after a certain threshold.

Who is Gordon Moore? Born in 1929, he is the the co-founder and Chairman Emeritus of Intel Corporation and the author of Moore's Law.

What is Moore also saying? He claims that "the interface between computers and biology now is a very interesting area", which may be the next driver of computer performance. In other words, bio-energy rather than silicon. Back to Moore's law, almost every measure of the capabilities of digital electronic devices is linked to Moore's Law: processing speed, memory capacity, even the resolution of LCD screens and digital cameras.

All of these are improving at exponential rates as well. This has changed dramatically the usefulness of digital electronics in nearly every segment of the world economy.

For those of us who have been following the development in computer technology since the 1980s, it's such a stunning difference to think 'where we were and where we are now'. Yet, there has been a somewhat steady predictability about it all, knowing that processing power will improve carrying with it all the advancements we've seen in multimedia.

Moore's Law was a driving force of technological and social change in the late 20th and early 21st centuries, and for scientists it is like an 'earthquake' when this principle no longer applies. Everything changes, wait for the next technological earthquake!


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