Intel's new Pentium 4 "Northwood" 2.2 Gig processors sit on a silcon wafer to the right. Its predecessor, the original Pentium 4 processor, codenamed "Willamette," sits to the left. (Photo courtesy of The Tech Report)

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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 created.

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 customers.

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."

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