After almost 40 years, Moore sees the end to his famous law

As chip giant Intel prepares to celebrate its 35th birthday on Friday (18 July) Gordon Moore, the company's co-founder predicted...

As chip giant Intel prepares to celebrate its 35th birthday on Friday (18 July) Gordon Moore, the company's co-founder predicted an end to his famous law about the growth of computing power.

In 1965 Moore predicted that the number of transistors on a computer chip would double every two years. Although Moore said it took years before he could even refer to his idea as "Moore's Law", the maxim has proved to be a remarkably accurate predictor of the computer industry's growth since it was coined in 1965.

Moore now believes his law is running up against both physical and financial reality.

The driving force behind Moore's law since it was formulated, he said, is the ability to make things ever smaller.

"Eventually the fact that the materials are made of atoms is a real limit," he said. "We've started seeing quantum mechanical effects in the devices we're making now. I think we've got two or three more generations, moving in the same path we've been on. Then we'll have to change."

The industry can continue to make bigger chips, but Moore warned, "It may not be at quite the breathtaking pace it's been so far - something that doubles every four years instead of every two years is still almost unprecedented."

Development will slow down, he added, warning that future developments will depend heavily on investment levels.

"A lot of investment is a lot easier in a growing market than it is in a flat market. I expect the market will continue to grow, but these things are all tied together."

Turning to another anniversary, Moore predicted that Intel's 25-year-old x86 architecture would be a feature of IT life for another decade and a half.

The architecture evolved considerably those over 25 years, said Moore. "We took advantage of essentially all the new inventions of the computer architects and academic communities. It carries some baggage, but the baggage is not that bad. It lets us run all the historical applications, which is really important.

"It's hard for me to envision circumstances that would be appropriate to abandon it," Moore added. "Compatibility is such a powerful asset for the typical user, it's going to keep the Intel architecture around for the foreseeable future."

Moore denied suggestions that the longevity of the x86 architecture was undermining uptake of Intel's 64-bit Itanium processor.

"They are aimed at different markets," he said. "Itanium doesn't depend much on legacy software, and it is a big-machine-oriented architecture. It may find its way onto the desktop too, if people really want to go that way, but I'm a little sceptical. We'll have to wait and see."

Robert McMillian writes for IDG News Service

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