Moore’s Law is often inaccurately quoted as saying that computer speeds double every set number of years. In reality, what Gordon Moore observed some years ago is that the number of transistors that can be packed on to a single chip was doubling roughly every two years.
Now I can’t tell you whether that still holds true. There are certainly physical limitations manufacturers must be encountering at some point, but some other interesting things have been happening as well.
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My gut reaction at the retail store shelf level is to agree with your comment about what you called “good enough computing”. Computers are relatively inexpensive, but with the migration of so much online, the pressure to get a purely faster CPU is probably lessening.
However, as I said, there are some other interesting pressures at work.
Look in your pocket
Much of the advancement in CPU technology recently has happened in small and low-powered devices. In fact, you can probably recognize the improvements that are being made in mobile phones and tablets every year or two. I know I certainly have more in my cell phone than was even available only two years ago!
Similarly, as opposed to increasing computational power, many chip makers are now looking instead to reduce power consumption. Once again, once the device is “good enough” to perform the tasks we we want it to, we now – sometimes desperately – want that battery to last much, much longer than it does. So mobile devices and even traditional laptops as well are getting more energy-efficient CPUs.
Another trend that’s actually more in line with the “number of transistors on a chip” rule has to do with the number of CPUs on a chip.
We used to think that making a single CPU go as fast possible was the best way to get the most performance out of the machine. As we reach an assortment of what I’ll call practical and physical limits, that approach may not make quite as much sense. So instead, chip makers started making dual core processors – two complete CPUs on a single chip; then quad core; then six. The new desktop machine I’m currently recording this Answercast on has twelve CPU cores.
The megahertz that you might be looking at might not appear to be growing, but once you realize that there are four, six, or twelve processors inside instead of just the one, then the processing ability that you have in front of you has still increased dramatically.
So, while Moore’s Law may be slowing down some, I think the fundamental concept remains. There are definitely continued improvements being made every year.
What might be changing is that those improvements are now manifesting in other ways, ways that are more than just increasing your chip speed every couple of years.