Moore’s law: will it last forever?


What is Moore’s Law and how does it work?

Intel is the world’s largest corporation in the semiconductor industry, it is an American multinational semiconductor chip producer. Moore’s law is named after the Intel co-founder Gordon Moore in 1965, who stated that, “the number of transistors on a chip will double approximately every two years”. The term is not an actual law in any scientific rule, similarly to “the rule of thumb”; however, Intel’s development from Moore’s law has fulfilled the many breakthrough achievements and has made the law widely acceptable.

In 1971, there were about 2,300 transistors with the size of 10 micrometers (10,000 nanometers) on a 12 square millimeters chip; at the moment, the 3rd generation Intel Corei7 has 1.4 billion transistors with the size of 22 nanometers, on a 160 square millimeters chip. A transistor is the electrical switch of a microprocessor, the gate control in a transistor is a binary switch consists of “0” and “1” (off/on). The amount of transistors connected will indicate the electron current flow within a chip, generally called “power supply of a chip.”

3dgate 2

Figure 1: Intel’s future development plan showing a trend in size reduction.

The size reduction of transistors gained the power for computers by allowing more things to be built on a single chip. A chip that has more things built on needs more power; thus, having smaller and more powerful transistors will supply enough power and space. As more things could be built on a chip, it increases the processing power of the CPU by having more processor cores with higher clock frequency and more data cache space. The result is that a processor could think faster on more than one thing at the same time, and could remember more information.

Why wouldn’t Moore’s law work?

The breaking down of Moore’s law has been spotted in 2010 by Michio Kaku, a physicist. He predicted the dead end as “computer power simply cannot maintain its rapid exponential rise using standard silicon technology”. Generally, the idea is that the transistors will be reaching the size that no presence material/technology would allow it to get any smaller.

The Intel Corporation admitted this fact until 2011, when the Intel architecture group designed the solution for this issue. Intel presented the “fueling Moore’s Law” innovation, which is the new design of a processor called “Intel’s tri-gate technology” or the “3D” processor. The transistors have been expanded into a 3-dimention vertical fin shape, allowing transistor size reduction to 5 nanometers within the 2015 timeframe. Even though the number of transistors increases, Moore showed that the cost of transistors decreased with the new manufacturing techniques; nevertheless, he will be able to keep the low cost of production once the technology has reached its limit. Moore’s law could also come to a brick wall if his new inventions are not affordable for computer users.


Figure 2: the demonstration of Intel’s tri-gate technology comparing to the older transistor design.

On the other hand, another argument to the collapse of Moore’s law is that the Nano size tri-gate technology might be a failure. The laws of thermal dynamics and quantum mechanics have set the limitation of how much computer power could be gained from silicon. Heat and electron leakage (energy efficiency) are the main issues of the rapid power increase and the extreme Nano size that silicon could handle. Kaku claimed that Moore’s law could “flatten out completely” by 2022 because sooner or later the silicon transistors will not get any smaller and no more could be squeezed onto a chip, and there needed to be a post-silicon era.

The arguments on both sides were very strongly claimed and cited with reliable resources, experiments and professional credibility. Intel has research teams that are trying to push back the limits of the processor development by the new transistor designs, which are proven by their experiment. On the contrary, Kaku used his professional credibility and scientific laws to disprove the possibility that Intel claimed. His arguments focused on the theoretical properties of silicon and problems that could be caused from overloading the use of silicon.

Follow this blog to see what happens next on the efficiency of Moore’s law!

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