Supercomputer photo courtesy of the European Space Observatory via Flickr. Modified by Curiousmatic.

How Moore’s Law Has Predicted The Sophistication Of Computers

Since 1965, researchers have known pretty much exactly how fast your computer would be today.

The first computer, ENIAC, which was built in 1945 and took up an entire 1,800 square feet, had a computing power of about 0,1 megahertz, according to the University of Pennsylvania’s computing magazine.

In comparison, the smartphones we carry around in our pockets today typically have dual processors of more than 1 gigahertz, which is 10,000 times faster than the ENIAC.

A computer processor determines the speed at which a computer performs calculations. ENIAC took 30 seconds to complete a single projection that would take a human 12 hours.

Computing power has increased at a vast and steady pace since 1945 – but it’s been no surprise to researchers.

Moore’s Law

In 1965, Intel co-founder Gordon Moore wrote a paper predicting that the number of transistors on a silicon chip would double approximately every two years, increasing computing power.

The prediction – which became known as Moore’s Law – has proved remarkably accurate, as the chart below shows, providing an almost linear guide to the amount of transistors in a chip.

Chart courtesy of Wgsimon via Wikipedia Commons.

The linearity is partially because the industry has used Moore’s law to guide their long-term planning and to benchmark their development.

However, that factor has also given manufacturers incentive to constantly improve the chips, even attracting government subsidies when they feared they would fall short, according to a book by the Dutch academic publishing house Walter De Gruyter.

The rise in computing power that the law has both predicted and encouraged has been a major factor in spawning our current age of mass information, and has enabled our age of ubiquitous computers, leading to advances in science, medicine, and other technologies.

Some say the law, which is close to its 50th birthday, is reaching its limit, however.

In a 2005 interview, Moore said there was a natural physical limit for the law when transistors reach the size of atoms, at which point it will be physically impossible to fit more on a chip.

Transistors are currently sized at around 20 nanometers, invisible to the human eye. One millimeter equals a million nanometers, while atoms are estimated to be between 0,1 nm and 0,5 nm.

An accurate atom-scale transistor was created in 2012, as published in the journal Nature Nanotechnology.

And even beyond transistors, some believe Moore’s Law will continue to be valid for increasing computing power in new, post-silicon types of computers, such as optical quantum or DNA computing.

Do you remember the specs of your first computer? Tweet @curiousmatic

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