When the death of Moore's Law was greatly exaggerated in the mid-90's

Summary : Crashing into Moore's Wall is like a conspiracy theory: it can never be disproved to the true believers that our industry is about to run into a wall that has never appeared. Back in the mid-nineties, Scientific American asked me and my Dad to layo

Chip History 21 & 13 Years Ago: When the death of Moore’s Law was greatly exaggerated. Crashing into Moore’s Wall is like a conspiracy theory: it can never be disproved to the true believers that our industry is about to run into a wall that has never appeared. Back in the mid-nineties, Scientific American asked me and my Dad to layout the case for the continuation of Moore’s Law. Clearly we got it right. Here’s some of the things we wrote that are still true today:

 

  • The ability to store and process information in new ways has been essential to humankind’s progress. From early Sumerian clay tokens through …
    • Scientific advances have enabled the storage, retrieval, and processing of ever more information, which in turn, has helped generate the insights needed for further advances.
      • In essence the demand for more Moore is unlimited.
    • … here we go again. With the cost of building a new semiconductor facility now into 10 figures, and with the densities of transistors close to the theoretical limits … an unsettling question is once more being asked in some quarters.
  • Moore and More Transistors
    • In stark contrast to what would seem to be implied by the dependable doubling of transistor densities, the route that led to today’s chips was anything but smooth.
      • … a harrowing obstacle course that repeatedly required chipmakers to overcome significant limitations in their equipment and production processes.
      • None of those problems turned out to be the dreaded showstopper …
    • Note this title predates More Moore, as offers the definition that it’s about More Transistor. The yet-to-be invented More Than Moore, would then be More Than Transistors.
  • Must the Show Go On?
    • One of the impediments to i-line operation was … Innovative solutions overcame these limitations.
    • … as new manufacturing technology takes hold, the costs of fabricating chips begin to decline.
  • Billion-Dollar Factories
    • Intel is spending $1.1B on its new factory in Hillsboro, Ore., and $1.3B on another one in Chandler Ariz …
    • That factories now cost so much is one piece of widely cited evidence that formidable technical barriers are close.
      • Today we spend 10X these amounts and still, there’s no economic barrier!
  • When the cost-per-bit begins to rise permanently, the most likely result will be a phase change that significantly alters business models.
    • Still hasn’t happened after 21 years. Note the use of cost-per-bit, as DRAMs were still considered the node clock and the term node did not exist yet.

 

Eight years later, in a 2004 Scientific American article, addressing another challenge, I would write:

  • These immensely sophisticated microchips – or rather, nanochips – are now manufactured by the millions, yet the scientists and engineers responsible for their development receive little recognition. You might say these people are the Rodney Dangerfields of nanotechnology.
  • That it has advanced as far as it has is a testament to the ingenious ability of the countless scientists and engineers to continually refine the basic method of chip manufacture …
    • At the end of the day, it is the brilliance of the people in our industry that bring evermore innovation each year. Physics may pose barriers. But it is people that overcome them.
    • I don’t expect this to be soon and
      • my personal track record on Moore’s Law is  38:0

 

G. D. Hutcheson and J. D. Hutcheson, Technology and Economics in the Semiconductor Industry, Scientific American, January 1996

G. D. Hutcheson, The First Nanochips, Scientific American, April 2004

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