Moore's Law Just Keeps Rolling Along

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There have always been two views about the future of technology. One is optimistic, the other pessimistic. The pessimists announce time and again that we will run out of oil, food, water, land, and money, and that the expansion of computer power will hit a wall. Moore’s Law, which states that computer price-performance power doubles roughly every two years, must end sometime soon, they say, as the limits of “materials science” are reached.

The optimists, on the other hand, look at human history and see that every time such a doomsday scenario is put forward, some clever people show up to invent something new to avert it. For example, just when it appeared that we might, indeed, run out of food, scientists developed new pesticides, new agricultural production methods, and new biotech crops.

Moore’s Law continues to reflect that spark of human ingenuity. For example, just as it appeared that engineers had reached the limits of silicon technology in early 2007, both Intel and IBM announced breakthroughs that would give Moore’s Law a new lease on life that could last a very long time.

The problems with current-generation chips are essentially two-fold. First, the faster that chips run, the warmer they become. If they lack cooling technologies, modern chips get hot enough to damage themselves. In addition, as components are micro-miniaturized, the silicon becomes so thin that it stops working as an insulator. More and more electric current leaks out — making more heat, reducing efficiency, and causing data errors.

As reported in the International Herald Tribune,1 however, Intel has found a way to replace certain materials in the chip and improve performance by 20 percent, with less heat and leakage. Intel will begin mass-producing this new chip design immediately.

The giant chipmaker has also streamlined its manufacturing process, using components that are just 45 nanometers wide, down from the present 65 nanometers, according to an Associated Press2 report.

Meanwhile, IBM recently announced that it has solved the problems plaguing its own chips. It is introducing a new three-dimensional architecture that shortens signal paths through the chip by a factor of 1,000, and allows hundreds of additional pathways when compared with two-dimensional chips.3

The result is a chip that is faster, denser, more efficient, and cooler. IBM’s 3-D chip production is set to begin in 2008. Its earliest use will be in power amplifiers for wireless and cellular applications. In addition, IBM will use the chips in its high-performance servers and its Blue Gene supercomputers...

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