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Sunday, October 17, 2004

Moore's Law, RIP by Nicholas Carr

We covered the topic changing nature of Moore's law recently. Nicholas Carr, in his charecteristic style views this development in a more holistic way. Carr writes Moore’s Law may be expiring, less because of technical limitations than because of a simple lack of interest. Carr expands, "Rather than seek further boosts in CPU clock speed, Intel said it would improve processor performance by focusing on secondary factors: increasing bus speeds, enlarging memory caches, and ultimately producing dual-core microprocessors -chips with two processing engines.Intel is not alone in struggling to achieve further clock-speed gains. AMD, Motorola, and IBM, among others, are also having problems. In fact, the clock-speed curve, which shot breathtakingly upward during the nineties, has been flattening for some time now. The immediate cause is technical. As chip speeds accelerate, it becomes ever more difficult to keep power consumption and operating temperature under control; reliability and usability both begin to suffer. At the same time, the manufacturing margin of error narrows, and it becomes harder to keep the yield of good chips up. Carr reasons, that Intel and other chipmakers are nothing if not resourceful. They’ve faced and surmounted tough engineering problems before. What’s really holding up progress today is not so much technological issues as economic ones. The demand for higher clock speeds is fading. As demand for increased CPU power weakens, chipmakers’ incentive to invest in achieving higher clock speeds fades as well. It becomes ever more unlikely that they’ll earn enough new sales to reap any return on the investment required to achieve the next bump in speed. The economics just don’t work – and that’s the real reason Intel backed out of its 4 GHz promise. As this article puts it in commenting on the company’s announcement, “the cost [of crossing the 4 GHz barrier] would far outweigh any financial benefit.” If we take clock speed as a proxy for Moore’s Law – that microprocessor power goes up at an exponential rate, doubling every year or two – then the implication is clear: That most famous of all Computer Age prognostications is reaching its expiration .In the computer business today, the market places greater value on factors other than processor power – on things like battery life and portability and not having your laptop burn a hole through your trousers. As computing devices keep getting smaller, such secondary characteristics will continue to grow in relative importance.Here’s the so-what: Whether you’re talking about planes, trains, or microchips, the basic performance of all technologies eventually reaches the limits of market demand - and then progress shifts gear. Innovation begins to focus less on what might be called core functionality and more on a myriad of secondary traits. Boosting the capacity or security of a railcar, say, comes to have more market value than increasing locomotive speed. When that point arrives, the success of a vendor hinges more on its ability to foresee which factors customers will value than on its raw technical skill.In the end, it’s the customer, not the engineer, who determines the course of and the limits to technological progress. I may not agree with Nicholas Carr's viewpoints all times - but this time , Carr is completely right, except the games people and scientists, generally speaking no one needs more clock speed and new set of applications exploting the speed. Extremely well articulated by Carr and very important from the industry and business standpoint that this is understood well.
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Sadagopan's Weblog on Emerging Technologies, Trends,Thoughts, Ideas & Cyberworld
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