The Most Misquoted Man in Electronics Industry History, Part 2

In his highly influential 1965 article, “Cramming more components onto integrated circuits” (Electronics, Volume 38, Number 8, April 19, 1965), Gordon Moore made his now-iconic prediction: For the then coming decade, the industry could expect to see a doubling of the economically optimal number of devices in integrated functions roughly every 18 months, starting with the current number of about 50. He included a plot that illustrated his conclusion:

Though Moore could not have guessed to what extent the semiconductor industry would latch on to this graph — the visual expression of what they came to call Moore's Law — it's attractiveness to a broad audience is unmistakable. Plotted against a logarithmic vertical axis, the sparse data suggests a reasonably straight line — sufficiently straight that the 10-year prediction looks more than rational — it looks like an obvious and inescapable conclusion (despite that it had been, to that moment, neither).

And thus it was. After all, who in the industry — be they in the technical, management, or investment communities — doesn't love a straight line especially one backed by data (sparse or otherwise)?

What I've found endlessly more interesting, however, is the less-straight plot the article included illustrating Moore's insight into the evolution of semiconductor technology:

About this plot, Moore wrote:

For simple circuits, the cost per component is nearly inversely proportional to the number of components, the result of the equivalent piece of semiconductor in the equivalent package containing more components. But, as components are added, decreased yields more than compensate for the increased complexity, tending to raise the cost per component. Thus there is a minimum cost at any given time in the evolution of the technology.

So, at the heart of Moore's insight was an understanding of evolving fabrication techniques and their critical economic implications with respect to growing circuit complexity. Moore was careful not to attach his discussion to a particular semiconductor material or fabrication technology, though he was clear that silicon would dominate as the basic material because of its abundance, low cost, and readily formed oxide. But even in 1965, it was clear to Moore that, for example, GaAs would be an important material for microwave applications.

With regard to linear circuits, Moore correctly observed that the benefits of evolving fabrication technologies would not bring benefits in proportion to those for digital functions. Among the key limiting issues he recognized was the difficulty in fabricating reactive elements of sufficient value and Q. Already apparent, however, was the distinct advantage integrated circuits would have in linear circuits due to the ability to fabricate well matched devices that thermally track one another – traits that remain key to analog integrated devices to this day.

2 comments on “The Most Misquoted Man in Electronics Industry History, Part 2

  1. eafpres
    March 10, 2013

    Joshua-this is great stuff.  I like the last chart–it is true that at any given point in time, there are a lot of process nodes in play, and there must be cost tradeoffs.  Makes sense the newest, most dense node might be more expensive when it comes on-line so the sweet spot is always one or more nodes back.

    On the mother ship, EE Times, I found this article where some brainy folks at MIT felt compelled to point out there are even better predictors, and boldly stated that something called Wright's Law trumps Moore's Law:

    Wright's Law


  2. WKetel
    March 13, 2013

    What almost all of those who parrot his assertion fail to acknowledge is that the gains he was anticipating would be coming through improved manufacturing techniques and not because of any real technology breakthroughs. So while it may still be applied to ICs for a while yet it can't be applied to those areas in which new technology must be found to bring about any advances. This especially applies to rechargable batteries.

    No matter how much you want something to be true, wishing it were true does not make it true. That is my rebuttal of a different, (JIM), Moore's assertion. He was a sort of engineer who would constantly assert that what he wanted to be true was true, thus creating a whole lot of unfortunate management anticipations.

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