50 Years of Moore's Law and Beyond

Thursday, April 23, 2015

50 Years of Moore's Law and Beyond

Moore's Law, the trend that heralds in ever-faster computers every couple of years, is now 50 years old.  Will a new paradigm take its place to continue our progress in the years to come?

April 19th recently marked the 50th anniversary of Moore's Law: the prediction that became the fact of the tremendous exponential growth in computing power that powered industry and civilization and led to the further prediction for a technological Singularity.

The invention of the integrated circuit in 1958, started off the electronics revolution and in 1965, Gordon Moore, a chemist turned electronic engineer, noticed that in the years since the first integrated circuits were built, engineers had managed to roughly double the number of components, such as transistors, on a chip every year.

Gordon Moore

Moore also predicted that the rate of component shrinkage — which he later revised to a doubling every two years — would continue for at least another decade. It turns out he was not exactly correct as the trend has extended for many more decades.

The transistors continued to shrink, leading to microprocessors with ever-higher performance and functionality.

First plot of Moore's Law
The original plot by Gordon Moore
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Initially the semiconductor industry met Moore’s Law mainly through feats of engineering genius and gigantic strides in manufacturing processes. Gradually though, the role of basic science also played a major role—and one that is increasingly important as the physical limitations of further shrinkage are being encountered.From the transistor to contemporary microprocessors, each success has built upon the last, driving innovation forward.

In the 1990s, when components reached around 100 nanometres across, miniaturization began to have adverse effects, worsening performance. Science was called upon to improve the performance of transistor materials. Major help came from condensed-matter physics.

The field was well aware of the ability of silicon to conduct electricity even better once its crystal lattice was stretched. Engineers introduced strained silicon into chips in the 2000s, and Moore’s Law continued along at full steam.

Now microprocessors have transistors that are just 14 nanometres wide, and Moore’s Law is reaching its ultimate physical limits.

Waste heat in particular has become a source of concern. It has already caused one form of Moore’s law — the exponential acceleration of computer ‘clock speed’ — to grind to a halt. Power-hungry chips also limit the ability of mobile devices to survive more than a few hours between charges.

Further efforts might yet bring one or two more generations of smaller transistors, down to a size of perhaps 5 nanometres, but beyond that we will require a fundamentally new physics model.

Researchers around the world are experimenting with approaches and materials to shift Moore's to a new paradigm. So far each potential obstacle to the Law has been trumped, but will the next one succeed?

SOURCE  Nature

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