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If Moore's law reaches the borders of technical feasibility - what comes next?

Name: Nishtala Rajiv

The co-founder of Intel group, Gordon E Moore, a visionary postulated the Moore’s Law. This

was applicable to both processing units and mass storage and it stated that the number of transistors on a chip will double about every two years: this implies that if we take clock speed as

a proxy for Moore's Law, then the power of the given microprocessor will go up at an exponential rate, typically doubling every two years.

The fundamental computer units which were used in the third generation of computers are gates and memory cells. These fundamental elements served as the basis for four fundamental functions namely Arithmetic process unit, Control Unit and data storage/movement. These units were preliminarily based on Transistor -Transistor logic (TTL) which used to work at a very high pace although it had higher number of transistors to store each bit which often proved to be very costly, despite the fact that it could sustain more power load. Then it was the introduction of the Complementary Metal Oxide Semi-Conductor (CMOS) which used lesser number to transistors to store each bit of data on the Static Data Random Access Memory (SDRAM) but was comparatively slower when compared to the TTL and way less costly too. The other advantages that the CMOS had over the TTL was that CMOS takes a lot less power and is therefore suitable for battery applications. On the flip side, CMOS chips can be damaged by static electricity: even a static jolt could destroy a CMOS chip.

All these integrated components can be kept on a single wafer of silicon or through the process of metallization. Initially, only a few gates or memory cells could be reliably manufactured and packed together. Packing of all these integrated circuits on a small scale is known as small scale

integration. As the technological trends increased at an exponential rate, it was possible to pack

in more number of integrated circuits on a single wafer of silicon

The Moore’s law was quick success and the clock speeds of the processors have grown at a phenomenal rate. Intel which stood by this law over the last few decades has increased the processing speed of its processors. One of the first processors that it came out with was the Intel 486 which included the cache memory onto the chipset board/the silicon board of the processor. From then on the chipset board consisted of both the processor and memory. As memory chips have a considerably higher density of transistors than microprocessor chips, this combination of memory with processors led to rapid increase in the number of transistors on such integrated processor chips. The faster memory from then on was called the Level 1 cache. This continued for almost a decade till the point where faster external memory chips like the Level 2 cache were introduced. These Level 2 cache memory along with the processor packed together led to the evolution of Pentium Pro and Pentium II. In the Pentium, Pentium Pro and Pentium II processor

families the transistor count doubled roughly at a rate of 54 months. Strictly speaking, the transistor counts have changed irregularly.

This trend was followed for about two decades till the point where the Intel introduced to the world their new technology based Intel Core processing and the Next Generation of computing of logical process chips would be the 22 nanometer node in the CMOS, which is expected to be reached by semiconductor companies in the 2011–2012 timeframe. At that time, the typical half- pitch (i.e., half the distance between identical features in an array) for a memory cell would be around 22 nm.

Intel has maintained this pace for over 40 years, providing more functions on a chip at significantly lower cost per function. What gives Pentium the mind-boggling power is the relentless pursuit of speed by processor chip manufactures. Therefore as long as this law holds good, chipmakers can bring out a new generation of chips every three years with almost four times as many transistors. The impact on memory chips is tremendous; the capacity of these chips has almost quadrupled.

Processing power, measured in millions of instructions per second (MIPS), has steadily risen

because of increased transistor density coupled with improved multiple core processor micro architecture. This law does not only provide means to improve processing power but also decreases the cost per transistor since more transistors can be kept on a single silicon wafer. Over time, a silicon-based technology gain in performance becomes less expensive to produce and is more plentiful and capable, and has become more seamlessly integrated into our daily lives. This law has driven the industry for about half a decade. Then Gordon E Moore at the International Solid-State Circuits Conference (ISSCC) in February 2003 quoted “Another decade is probably

straightforward

There

is certainly no end to creativity.”

The statement quoted by Gordon Moore has now come to reality, the physical dimensions of the integrated circuits material and structures will drop down to the size of an atom by 2020. Now, its time to look beyond integrated circuits for alternative means of computing mechanisms and logic devices.

But where Moore’s law ends, Bio-Computing and Quantum computing begin.

No doubt raw processing power will serve as one of the key factors in the improvisation of this technology. In view of this, the Intel researchers have advanced to other high performance transistors using a new material for the transistor gate electrode. The combination of the high-K gate dielectric with the metal gate electrode enables a drastic reduction in the leakage current while maintaining very high transistor performance. This might be one of the many advances that might drive away the Moore’s law.

The number of transistors which we can be accommodated on a single silicon wafer will be eventually collapse to the size of an atom. At this stage the clock speed of the microprocessor

will consequently come to a halt because of this, advances that are being implemented on the multi-core and multithreaded architectures which will harness the growing number of transistors to handle or compute intensive applications. These architectural features will enable extensive parallelism which is the key for increasing the power within a given domain. Multi-core technology will enable the user to address future complex workload needs and enable better user interfaces, data protection and will obviously enhance the overall performance. The biggest drawback of having parallel computing is the heat emission because of which we are forced to throttle back the performance of each core slightly because of which a single threaded application will run slower on a multithreaded processor than it would actually run on a single threaded processor.

However until this is done, after 2020 Moore's law may continue to exist, only because of the future technologies, that are now in experimental stages like the quantum computing ,a quantum computer is a machine that performs calculations based on the laws of quantum mechanics, which is the behavior of particles at the sub-atomic level. Quantum computing was first applied to computers in the year 1981 by Paul Benioff .He theorized creating a Quantum Turing machine. Quantum computing exploits the properties of atoms and their nuclei to create a different type of architecture through quantum physics -- that subatomic netherworld where reality can be and cease to be in nearly the same instant.

Gordon E Moore said “Electronics though is a fundamental technology that's not likely to be replaced directly. There's a difference between making a small machine and connecting them by the billion. Nanotech will have an impact but it's not about replacing electronics in the foreseeable future.” I would look at Moore’s law as just an observation; this should not be the driving force. Perhaps we'll find new technologies, new materials to postpone the end of this observation, but no matter what happens, we must not be driven to follow Moore's law to the letter - it's a mere observation. Eventually, we won't be able to keep up the pace but that's completely fine.

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