Fifty years ago yesterday, Gordon Moore published a document in Electronics magazine titled "Cramming More Components Onto Integrated Circuits." Ten years after the original publication, the idea he put forth would become known as "Moore's Law," and it has had a significant impact on the development of computing technology.
At the time Moore was writing, the dominant solution for creating integrated electronics did not involve silicon-based semiconductors. Other methods, such as using numerous individual components, were more popular, and cheaper. Moore's first prediction was that this would change, and that using semiconductor integrated circuits would become the dominant method for producing integrated circuits.
"Semiconductor devices are the only reasonable candidates presently in existence for the active elements of integrated circuits," said Moore. "In 1970, the manufacturing cost per component can be expected to be only a tenth of the present cost."
Moore said that semiconductor integrated circuits would need 50 components inside to be cost effective. At that point, the yield from using numerous individual components would decrease enough so that using a single semiconductor integrated circuit was more cost effective.
As semiconductor technologies advanced, the number of components that could be cheaply produced on a semiconductor integrated circuit would increase, while costs dropped. Moore said that within five years, 1,000 components per circuit could be expected, and in 10 years the number of components for cheaper semiconductor integrated circuits could rise to 65,000.
This was Moore's second prediction, and it would become the primary tenant of Moore's Law. The cost for producing semiconductor integrated circuits would decrease, as complexity increased.
"The complexity for minimum component cost has increased at a rate of roughly a factor of two per year. Certainly over the short term this rate can be expected to continue, if not to increase. Over the longer term, the rate of increase is a bit more uncertain, although there is no reason to believe it will not remain nearly constant for at least 10 years," said Moore.
At the time this document was published, Moore was working as a researcher for Fairchild Semiconductor, but he would later leave to co-found one of the most influential companies in the computer world: Intel.
After co-founding Intel, Moore was placed in a situation where he had direct control and could push for greater innovation and advancement. Intel has striven to keep pace, and be it from natural development (as Moore predicted) or from competition with Intel, many others in the computer industry have done the same and worked tirelessly to innovate and advance technology.
Compared to the 4004, the first microprocessor developed by Intel in 1971, a modern 22nm processor has over 4,000 times the performance. At the same time, each transistor uses less than 5,000 times the energy, and the price has dropped by about a factor of 50,000.
To celebrate the50th anniversary of Moore's Law, Intel published several web pages dedicated to the history of Intel and how Moore's Law has contributed to the advancement of the company. In a video, Moore also spoke about his predictions and his surprise at how far it has gone.
Today, semiconductor integrated circuits are everywhere, in almost everything we use that uses electricity, such as remotes, TVs, phones, computers, cars, speaker systems, game consoles, watches, clocks, and numerous other devices. Thus far, Moore's Law has held true. It has helped shape modern technology, and as computers continue to advance, we can expect it to continue to be an influential force.