Moore’s Law, Part 1: Brief history of Moore's Law and current state

November 11, 2013

This is the first entry of a series focused on Moore’s Law and its implications moving forward, edited from a White paper on Moore’s Law, written by Google University Relations Manager Michel Benard. This series quotes major sources about Moore’s Law and explores how they believe Moore’s Law will likely continue over the course of the next several years. We will also explore if there are fields other than digital electronics that either have an emerging Moore's Law situation, or promises for such a Law that would drive their future performance.


Moore's Law is the observation that over the history of computing hardware, the number of transistors on integrated circuits doubles approximately every two years. The period often quoted as "18 months" is due to Intel executive David House, who predicted that period for a doubling in chip performance (being a combination of the effect of more transistors and their being faster). -Wikipedia

Moore’s Law is named after Intel co-founder Gordon E. Moore, who described the trend in his 1965 paper. In it, Moore noted that the number of components in integrated circuits had doubled every year from the invention of the integrated circuit in 1958 until 1965 and predicted that the trend would continue "for at least ten years". Moore’s prediction has proven to be uncannily accurate, in part because the law is now used in the semiconductor industry to guide long-term planning and to set targets for research and development.

The capabilities of many digital electronic devices are strongly linked to Moore's law: processing speed, memory capacity, sensors and even the number and size of pixels in digital cameras. All of these are improving at (roughly) exponential rates as well (see Other formulations and similar laws). This exponential improvement has dramatically enhanced the impact of digital electronics in nearly every segment of the world economy, and is a driving force of technological and social change in the late 20th and early 21st centuries.

Most improvement trends have resulted principally from the industry’s ability to exponentially decrease the minimum feature sizes used to fabricate integrated circuits. Of course, the most frequently cited trend is in integration level, which is usually expressed as Moore’s Law (that is, the number of components per chip doubles roughly every 24 months). The most significant trend is the decreasing cost-per-function, which has led to significant improvements in economic productivity and overall quality of life through proliferation of computers, communication, and other industrial and consumer electronics.

Transistor counts for integrated circuits plotted against their dates of introduction. The curve shows Moore's law - the doubling of transistor counts every two years. The y-axis is logarithmic, so the line corresponds to exponential growth

All of these improvement trends, sometimes called “scaling” trends, have been enabled by large R&D investments. In the last three decades, the growing size of the required investments has motivated industry collaboration and spawned many R&D partnerships, consortia, and other cooperative ventures. To help guide these R&D programs, the Semiconductor Industry Association (SIA) initiated the National Technology Roadmap for Semiconductors (NTRS) in 1992. Since its inception, a basic premise of the NTRS has been that continued scaling of electronics would further reduce the cost per function and promote market growth for integrated circuits. Thus, the Roadmap has been put together in the spirit of a challenge—essentially, “What technical capabilities need to be developed for the industry to stay on Moore’s Law and the other trends?”

In 1998, the SIA was joined by corresponding industry associations in Europe, Japan, Korea, and Taiwan to participate in a 1998 update of the Roadmap and to begin work toward the first International Technology Roadmap for Semiconductors (ITRS), published in 1999. The overall objective of the ITRS is to present industry-wide consensus on the “best current estimate” of the industry’s research and development needs out to a 15-year horizon. As such, it provides a guide to the efforts of companies, universities, governments, and other research providers or funders. The ITRS has improved the quality of R&D investment decisions made at all levels and has helped channel research efforts to areas that most need research breakthroughs.

For more than half a century these scaling trends continued, and sources in 2005 expected it to continue until at least 2015 or 2020. However, the 2010 update to the ITRS has growth slowing at the end of 2013, after which time transistor counts and densities are to double only every three years. Accordingly, since 2007 the ITRS has addressed the concept of functional diversification under the title “More than Moore” (MtM). This concept addresses an emerging category of devices that incorporate functionalities that do not necessarily scale according to “Moore's Law,” but provide additional value to the end customer in different ways.

The MtM approach typically allows for the non-digital functionalities (e.g., RF communication, power control, passive components, sensors, actuators) to migrate from the system board-level into a particular package-level (SiP) or chip-level (SoC) system solution. It is also hoped that by the end of this decade, it will be possible to augment the technology of constructing integrated circuits (CMOS) by introducing new devices that will realize some “beyond CMOS” capabilities. However, since these new devices may not totally replace CMOS functionality, it is anticipated that either chip-level or package level integration with CMOS may be implemented.

The ITRS provides a very comprehensive analysis of the perspective for Moore’s Law when looking towards 2020 and beyond. The analysis can be roughly segmented into two trends: More Moore (MM) and More than Moore (MtM). In the next blog in this series, we will look in the the recent conclusions mentioned in the ITRS 2012 report on both trends.

The opportunities for more discourse on the impact and future of Moore’s Law on CS and other disciplines are abundant, and can be continued with your comments on the Research at Google Google+ page. Please join, and share your thoughts.