Design Con 2015

Is Moore's Law dead and does it matter?

Brian Bailey, EET DesignLines contributing editor

July 31, 2013

Brian Bailey, EET DesignLines contributing editorJuly 31, 2013

People have been talking about the end of Moore's Law for some time, but those discussions became a lot more urgent and heated at DAC in June. Many reasons have been postulated as to why Moore's Law might end, including not being able to overcome some physical limitation -- perhaps a design issue that is preventing the whole chip from being powered up at the same time.

More recently the matter of cost has been raised, where it will become so expensive to design a chip at the next node that nobody will be able to afford it. The concern has been that, with fewer design starts using the latest technologies and lower chip volumes, manufacturers would then not invest in wafer fabs for the next technology.

I am not sure I fully get behind any of these arguments, but if we do stop making these advances what really happens? Is there no room for innovation if monolithically integrated devices cannot get more complicated? I am sure that some companies will be affected by this "crisis" as their commercial lead is contingent on being ahead of the design and fabrication curve rather than having the best design. Such an end may well transform our industry, but then we cannot expect the ride we have been on for 50 years to continue without some kind of change.

Robert Colwell, who works for DARPA, said at DAC that the end of Moore's Law would be a US national security threat. This is based on the assertion that if the US does not stay ahead of the rest of the world in terms of computing power and associated technologies, then the rest of the world will become as capable as the US and be able to do things without the US government finding out -- and they will be able to find out what the US is planning to do.

Similar assertions can and are made in terms of weapons, of course. My first reaction is a political one. Why can we not spend more time getting along with people so that this is just not an issue that we care about? OK, so I am idealistic and I understand that some people may not think this is realistic or pragmatic.

Does innovation die when we cannot create more complex devices? I hope this is not true. I hope that we would find ways to use our knowledge and the capabilities we have in better and more optimal ways, exploring different architectures where we have just accepted those in existence today because that is easier and faster. What about biological computing or coming up with computers that operate more like the brain rather than just accept that binary arithmetic is the way to go?

So, what happens if the whole world has equal access to technology? Does stability depend on one country having a bigger stick than everyone else?

This article was published previously on the EETimes SoC Designlines. 

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