Does Moore's Law really end?

Forecast 2020: What Comes According to Moore's Law

Thomas Hartmann

In the economy, growth is the magic word - in computer technology everything is supposed to get smaller and smaller. But soon a natural limit will be reached.

EnlargeQuantum mechanics determines how far Moore's law remains valid

The background to the discussion and a detailed article in Nature is Moore's Law. In a computer lexicon from 2001/2002 it says succinctly: "Law drawn up in 1968 by Gordon Moore, the then managing director of Intel, according to which the number of transistors on a processor doubles every 18-24 months Today verified "(Beck EDV-Beratung Computer-Lexikon, 4th edition, page 555).

In fact, Gordon Moore, who would co-found Intel shortly afterwards, as research director of Fairchild Semiconductor in California, predicted that the number of transistors and other electronic components per chip would double annually in 1965, and that technology components such as home computers, digital fittings, automatic cars and personalized ones are only now taken for granted portable communication devices predicted. In terms of speed, the expected pace was then changed to "only" doubling the number of transistors on a processor every two years. This law seemed to come true again and again with high precision, both transistors on a chip and the clock frequency, i.e. the speed, increased incessantly. Until 2004 the problem of excessive heat development could no longer be ignored and one could not simply continue in the old style. Clear graphics in the Nature article show how steep the curve of the transistors per chip and the clock rate rose initially and for many years, only to become flatter for some time. It is also interesting to see how devices from cabinet-sized mainframes to mobile devices and processors integrated in everyday devices continue to shrink.

More cores and threads instead of higher clock speeds

In order to master the problem, in particular to escape the "heat death" and still develop higher-performance systems, the circuit elements (especially the "wires" in the circuits) have not only become smaller and smaller and have now reached a provisional lower limit of 14 nanometers The processor clock rates have not changed significantly since 2004. In particular, up to four or even eight processors have been packed on one chip in order to enable faster calculations and processing of instruction sets. Also hyperthreading technology, in which one processor core performs several tasks ("Threads") can process in parallel belongs in this development.

In addition, there is an attempt to no longer necessarily create the fastest processors for all possible tasks, but rather - which is of course more expensive and more complex - to develop special processors, for example in the mobile sector, for targeted processing. The problem of miniaturizing the circuits even further leads to dimensions in which quantum mechanics is becoming more and more relevant: They can no longer be clearly calculated and controlled as usual. It is also believed that the future of the promising quantum computers will be reserved for specialized companies rather than a new technology for the broad mass of applications and devices.

Computer scientists are also hoping for new technologies such as spintronics or the development of processors made from graphene (carbon in a regular, flat hexagonal grid). It remains to be seen whether the further downsizing of the microprocessors and their command units by 2020 will actually achieve a lower limit of 2-3 nanometers and thus conductors would be an average of only ten atomic diameters - because this is where the quantum-physical indeterminacy that exists can hardly be handled for such small-scale processes.

Detailed information on the history, present and development of processors and Moore's Law can be found in the freely accessible article by Nature by M. Mitchell Waldrop, published on February 9, 2016.

Also read: Apple's Distant Future - Sensors and Services After the End of Moore's Law