Moore’s law describes a long-term trend in the history of computing hardware. The quantity of transistors that can be placed inexpensively on an integrated circuit has doubled approximately every two years. The trend has continued for more than half a century and is not expected to stop until 2015 or later.

The capabilities of many digital electronic devices are strongly linked to Moore’s law: processing speed, memory capacity, sensors and even the number and size of pixels in digital cameras. All of these are improving at (roughly) exponential rates as well. This has dramatically increased the usefulness of digital electronics in nearly every segment of the world economy. Moore’s law describes a driving force of technological and social change in the late 20th and early 21st centuries.

The law is named after Intel co-founder Gordon E. Moore, who described the trend in his 1965 paper. The paper noted that number of components in integrated circuits had doubled every year from the invention of the integrated circuit in 1958 until 1965 and predicted that the trend would continue “for at least ten years”. His prediction has proved to be uncannily accurate, in part because the law is now used in the semiconductor industry to guide long-term planning and to set targets for research and development.

History

The term “Moore’s law” was coined around 1970 by the Caltech professor, VLSI pioneer, and entrepreneur Carver Mead. Predictions of similar increases in computer power had existed years prior. Alan Turing in a 1950 paper had predicted that by the turn of the millennium, computers would have a billion words of memory. Moore may have heard Douglas Engelbart, a co-inventor of today’s mechanical computer mouse, discuss the projected downscaling of integrated circuit size in a 1960 lecture. A New York Times article published August 31, 2009, credits Engelbart as having made the prediction in 1959.

Moore’s original statement that transistor counts had doubled every year can be found in his publication “Cramming more components ontointegrated circuits”, Electronics Magazine 19 April 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. That means by 1975, the number of components per integrated circuit for minimum cost will be 65,000. I believe that such a large circuit can be built on a single wafer.

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