Hey Transistor, Happy 60th. Now Move Closer

Hey Jeff, thanks for reminding me that on December 16th, 1947 William Shockley, John Bardeen & Walter Brattain created the first working transistor, the basic building block that helped build some nations and a few trillion dollar fortunes.

Six decades later, the computer business is facing a brand new set of challenges. Moore’s Law as we have known it is facing a ceiling, argues Associated Press.

Gordon Moore, the Intel Corp. co-founder who famously predicted in 1965 that the number of transistors on a chip should double every two years, sees that the end is fast approaching — an outcome the chip industry is scrambling to avoid. “I can see (it lasting) another decade or so,” he said of the axiom now known as Moore’s Law. “Beyond that, things look tough. But that’s been the case many times in the past.”

The ever smaller and always faster chips are beginning to run into physical limits, including the problems created by generating too much heat, and excessive power consumption. This has the industry scrambling for new technologies and radical new thinking.

Intel for instance is experimenting with different ways to keep it going, indulging in highly speculative technologies that include everything from optics to quantum computing. Others like Microsoft’s Craig Mundie are talking about multiple core chips, where each core is assigned a specific task. He compares them the future multi core chips to orchestras. The only problem, as The New York Times points out is the software that makes these chips do what they are supposed to ultimately do.

And while we wait for these big ideas come to fruition, the real future means packing these transistors tighter and closer in ways previously not thought, and ultimately putting them into mobile phones — the real computers of the future. Moore’s Law has always been equated with PCs.

The PC centric approach overshadows the fact PC represents the past of our industry, the future is mobile — not just mobile phones but a whole gaggle of mobile devices that haven’t been dreamed off yet.
In my Business 2.0 column, Moore’s Law 2.0, I quoted Drew Lanza, general partner with Morgenthaler Ventures, who pointed out that “Moore’s original research paper didn’t say anything about processor clock speed. It said you could, with every generation of chips, cram more transistors into the same space.”

As phone makers cram more features into cell phones – FM radios, TV tuners, Wi-Max, and ultra-wideband – chip designers will have to pack them intelligently into ever smaller circuits. Moore’s Law in the 21st century is about building these supercombo chips, not the fastest chip for your desktop. With nearly 1 billion mobile phones sold every year, this is an opportunity much larger than the PC market.

Here is to next 60 years!