Moore’s Law – Still Driving Down The IT Footprint

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Processing per kiloWatt hour is doubling according to the law laid down by Gordon Moore 50 years ago. And researcher Jonathan Koomey thinks this could help save the world

Moore’s Law is a lot older than you think – and it’s going to save us all. At least that’s the view of an Intel-funded researcher from California’s Stanford University.

Moore’s Law is a truism in the industry: the number of transistors in a given area of silicon will double every 18-24 months, it predicts. It was a trend first noted by Intel co-founder Gordon E. Moore in a paper in 1965.

“The complexity for minimum component costs has increased at a rate of roughly a factor of two per year … Certainly over the short term this rate can be expected to continue, if not to increase. Over the longer term, the rate of increase is a bit more uncertain, although there is no reason to believe it will not remain nearly constant for at least 10 years,” Moore wrote.

Moore’s Law has become the heartbeat of the technological revolution we’ve seen unfold over the last 50 years or more: technology development beats in time to it. And as transistor counts double as micro-architectures shrink, power consumption falls, computing power rises at a similar cost or less than that of the previous technology generation.

And Gordon Moore himself is still around to celebrate and speak to eWEEK about the Law.

Unseen heartbeat

But is Moore’s Law a force of nature – as Intel tends to view it – or has it become a self-fulfilling prophecy, as some argue? Consulting professor Dr Jonathan G. Koomey argues: “There is also a self-fulfilling aspect of Moore’s law, as summarized by Mollick (2006) — the industry’s engineers have used Moore’s law as a benchmark to which they calibrated their rate of innovation.”

Whatever the weighting of natural technological advance versus industry expectation, Koomey has unearthed evidence that the law has a solid historical foundation: Moore’s Law doesn’t just work now, it’s held true for the last 60 years – and some 15 of those years are before Moore published his note.

Koomey’s research into the efficiency of computations per kWh started with ENIAC in the 1940s – which he described as the world’s first computer, even though Brits might argue that the wartime decryption behemoth Colossus at Bletchley Park deserves the crown. It continues through to modern PCs and servers.

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Koomey matched the power consumption of those computers to their computing power and found that reality has mirrored Moore’s Law for the last 60 years – even during the era of valve-based electronics, and well before Gordon Moore coined his infamous statement, or “empirical observation”, as Koomey’s paper describes it.

Technology helps save the planet

The research comes in the form of three papers, one of which concentrates on how technology that enables digital downloads is more energy-efficient, and so generates less carbon dioxide than moving physical stuff around – moving “electrons rather than atoms”, as Koomey puts it.

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