Fifty years ago, Gordon Moore, a co-founder of Intel predicted that the number of transistors on a single microchip would double every year. Ten years later he revised this estimate to every two years. This is known as Moore`s Law. In 2015, this forecast has remained true but even Moore himself has hypothesised that this rate of expansion cannot continue indefinitely. Other commentators have stated that transistors are now so small that Moore`s Law could become untrue very soon. However, recent technological breakthroughs have opened up the possibility that Moore`s Law could remain true, or even be exceeded, for many years to come.
Is this the End for Moore`s Law?
Microchip manufacturers are constantly endeavouring to make chips more powerful and cheaper to build. This has involved packing an increasing number of transistors on to a single silicone wafer. The primary method of achieving this has been to make the components smaller and smaller. However, components are now so small, around 14 nanometres, it is unlikely they can be made much smaller. Intel told the Economist this year that they believed they could make transistors as small as 5 nanometres, about the width of a cell membrane, in the next ten years but that would be the limit to how small they could be. These limitations seem to spell the end for Moore`s Law.
IBM, however, made a breakthrough in 2007 which resulted in the number of transistors increasing without needing to become any smaller. Instead they were brought closer together. Using a power transmitting system called `silicon via technology` they were able to create 3D chips which contained100 more channels through the wafer, eliminated the need for long metal wires connecting components together and shortened the distance electricity travels by 1000.
Moving on from the Silicon Wafer
Although the use of 3D wafer construction has considerably increased the shelf life of Moore`s Law, it still has limitations over time. The University of Connecticut are currently developing new integrated circuit technology which could extend it even further. A group called POET Technologies have combined optics with electronics to create a wafer made of gallium arsenide which they claim will be faster, cheaper and more energy efficient than silicon. They state that, going forward, they will be able to fit all the necessary components on to a single chip without the need to connect chips together. Developments like this make it possible for Moore`s Law to remain true far into the future.