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In 1971, the Intel
Corporation released their first processor, the 4004.
This chip contained 2,250 transistors. 14 years later, Intel released
the 386 processor, a chip used by the first mainstream household
PCs. It contained 275,000 transistors. The 486 processor broke
the one-million transistor mark four years later. The company's
latest and most powerful processor, the Pentium 4, contains a
staggering 42 million transistors.
This exponential growth in the number of transistors per integrated
circuit was discovered by Intel co-founder Gordon Moore in 1965,
only four years after the first planar integrated circuit was
The trend has slowed a bit, but data density has doubled approximately
every 18 months. This is currently the most recent incarnation
of the law, a doubling of computer processing power each year
and a half.
But, the future economic ramifications of Moore's Law on the computer
industry is staggering. To keep its revenue level, Intel must
convince its customers to double their computing power every 18
months or stick with its product lineup and find twice as many
Ironically, research and development also follows Moore's Law.
In another 20 years, Intel's R&D costs will reach $31 trillion
annually. This is an improbablity and can't sustain itself.
After all, Moore once said, "Obviously, you can't just keep
doubling every couple years. After a while the numbers just become
absurd. You'd have the semiconductor industry alone bigger than
the entire GDP of the world."