"Moore's law" is the observation that the number of transistors in a dense integrated circuit has doubled approximately every two years. The observation is named after Gordon E. Moore, the co-founder of Intel and Fairchild Semiconductor, whose 1965 paper described a doubling every year in the number of components per integrated circuit,[note 1] and projected this rate of growth would continue for at least another decade. In 1975, looking forward to the next decade, he revised the forecast to doubling every two years.
His prediction proved accurate for several decades, and the law was used in the semiconductor industry to guide long-term planning and to set targets for research and development. Advancements in digital electronics are strongly linked to Moore's law: quality-adjusted microprocessor prices, memory capacity, sensors and even the number and size of pixels in digital cameras.
Digital electronics have contributed to world economic growth in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. Moore's law describes a driving force of technological and social change, productivity, and economic growth.
The period is often quoted as 18 months because of Intel executive David House, who predicted that chip performance would double every 18 months (being a combination of the effect of more transistors and their being faster).
"Moore's law" should be considered an observation or projection and obviously not a physical or natural law. Although the rate held steady from 1975 until around 2012, the rate was faster during the first decade. In general, it is not logically sound to extrapolate from the historical growth rate into the indefinite future. For example, the 2010 update to the International Technology Roadmap for Semiconductors predicted that growth would slow around 2013, and Gordon Moore in 2015 foresaw that the rate of progress would reach saturation: "I see Moore’s law dying here in the next decade or so."
Intel confirmed in 2015 that the pace of advancement has slowed, starting at the 22 nm node around 2012 and continuing at 14 nm. Brian Krzanich, CEO of Intel, announced that “our cadence today is closer to two and a half years than two.” This is scheduled to hold through the 10 nm node in late 2017. He cited Moore's 1975 revision as a precedent for the current deceleration, which results from technical challenges and is “a natural part of the history of Moore's law.”
For the thirty-fifth anniversary issue of Electronics magazine, which was published on April 19, 1965, Gordon E. Moore, who was working as the director of research and development (R&D) at Fairchild Semiconductor at the time, was asked to predict what was going to happen in the semiconductor components industry over the next ten years. His response was a brief article entitled, "Cramming more components onto integrated circuits". Within his editorial, he speculated that by 1975 it would be possible to contain as many as 65,000 components on a single quarter-inch semiconductor.
At the 1975 IEEE International Electron Devices Meeting Moore revised the forecast rate.  Semiconductor complexity would continue to double annually until about 1980 after which it would decrease to a rate of doubling approximately every two years.  He outlined several contributing factors for this exponential behavior:
- Die sizes were increasing at an exponential rate and as defective densities decreased, chip manufacturers could work with larger areas without losing reduction yields
- Simultaneous evolution to finer minimum dimensions
- and what Moore called "circuit and device cleverness"
Despite a popular misconception, Moore is adamant that he did not predict a doubling "every 18 months." Rather, David House, an Intel colleague, had factored in the increasing performance of transistors to conclude that integrated circuits would double in performance every 18 months.
In April 2005, Intel offered US$10,000 to purchase a copy of the original Electronics issue in which Moore's article appeared. An engineer living in the United Kingdom was the first to find a copy and offer it to Intel.
As a target for industry and a self-fulfilling prophecy
This drove both marketing and engineering departments of semiconductor manufacturers to focus enormous energy aiming for the specified increase in processing power that it was presumed one or more of their competitors would soon attain. In this regard, it may be viewed as a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Moore's second law
As the cost of computer power to the consumer falls, the cost for producers to fulfill Moore's law follows an opposite trend: R&D, manufacturing, and test costs have increased steadily with each new generation of chips. Rising manufacturing costs are an important consideration for the sustaining of Moore's law. This had led to the formulation of Moore's second law, also called Rock's law, which is that the capital cost of a semiconductor fab also increases exponentially over time.
Enabling factors and future trends
Numerous innovations by scientists and engineers have sustained Moore's law since the beginning of the integrated circuit (IC) era. A few innovations are listed below, as examples of breakthroughs that have advanced integrated circuit technology by more than seven orders of magnitude in less than five decades:
- The foremost contribution, which is the raison d’être for Moore's law, is the invention of the integrated circuit, credited contemporaneously to Jack Kilby at Texas Instruments and Robert Noyce at Fairchild Semiconductor.
- The invention of the complementary metal–oxide–semiconductor (CMOS) process by Frank Wanlass in 1963  and a number of advances in CMOS technology by many workers in the semiconductor field since the work of Wanlass have enabled the extremely dense and high-performance ICs that the industry makes today.
- The invention of the dynamic random access memory (DRAM) technology by Robert Dennard at I.B.M. in 1967  made it possible to fabricate single-transistor memory cells, and the invention of flash memory by Fujio Masuoka at Toshiba in the 1980s, leading to low-cost, high-capacity memory in diverse electronic products.
- The invention of chemically-amplified photoresist by C. Grant Willson, Hiroshi Ito and J.M.J. Fréchet at IBM c.1980, that was 10–100 times more sensitive to ultraviolet light. IBM introduced chemically amplified photoresist for DRAM production in the mid-1980s.
- The invention of deep UV excimer laser photolithography by Kanti Jain  at IBM c.1980, has enabled the smallest features in ICs to shrink from 800 nanometers in 1990 to as low as 22 nanometers in 2012. This built on the invention of the excimer laser in 1970  by Nikolai Basov, V. A. Danilychev and Yu. M. Popov, at the Lebedev Physical Institute. From a broader scientific perspective, the invention of excimer laser lithography has been highlighted as one of the major milestones in the 50-year history of the laser.
- The interconnect innovations of the late 1990s include that IBM developed CMP or chemical mechanical planarization c.1980, based on the centuries-old polishing process for making telescope lenses. CMP smooths the chip surface. Intel used chemical-mechanical polishing to enable additional layers of metal wires in 1990; higher transistor density (tighter spacing) via trench isolation, local polysilicon (wires connecting nearby transistors), and improved wafer yield (all in 1995). Higher yield, the fraction of working chips on a wafer, reduces manufacturing cost. IBM with assistance from Motorola used CMP for lower electrical resistance copper interconnect instead of aluminum in 1997.
Computer industry technology road maps predict (as of 2001[update]) that Moore's law will continue for several generations of semiconductor chips. Depending on the doubling time used in the calculations, this could mean up to a hundredfold increase in transistor count per chip within a decade. The semiconductor industry technology roadmap uses a three-year doubling time for microprocessors, leading to a tenfold increase in the next decade. Intel was reported in 2005 as stating that the downsizing of silicon chips with good economics can continue during the next decade,[note 1] and in 2008 as predicting the trend through 2029.
Some of the new directions in research that may allow Moore's law to continue are:
- In 2008 researchers at HP Labs announced a working memristor, a fourth basic passive circuit element whose existence only had been theorized previously. The memristor's unique properties permit the creation of smaller and better-performing electronic devices.
- In 2010 researchers at the Tyndall National Institute in Cork, Ireland announced a junctionless transistor. A control gate wrapped around a silicon nanowire can control the passage of electrons without the use of junctions or doping. They claim these may be produced at 10-nanometer scale using existing fabrication techniques.
- In 2011 researchers at the University of Pittsburgh announced the development of a single-electron transistor, 1.5 nanometers in diameter, made out of oxide based materials. Three "wires" converge on a central "island" that can house one or two electrons. Electrons tunnel from one wire to another through the island. Conditions on the third wire result in distinct conductive properties including the ability of the transistor to act as a solid state memory. Nanowire transistors could spur the creation of microscopic computers.
- In 2012 a research team at the University of New South Wales announced the development of the first working transistor consisting of a single atom placed precisely in a silicon crystal (not just picked from a large sample of random transistors). Moore's law predicted this milestone to be reached for ICs in the lab by 2020.
- In 2014 bioengineers at Stanford University developed a circuit modeled on the human brain. Sixteen "Neurocore" chips simulate one million neurons and billions of synaptic connections, claimed to be 9,000 times faster as well as more energy efficient than a typical PC.
- In 2015 IBM demonstrated 7 nm node chips with silicon-germanium transistors produced using EUVL. The company believes this transistor density would be four times that of current 14 nm chips.
- In 2015, Intel and Micron announced 3D XPoint, a non-volatile memory claimed to be up to 1,000 times faster, up to 1,000 times higher endurance and similar in density compared to NAND. Production is scheduled in 2016.
Speculation on Limits
On 13 April 2005, Gordon Moore stated in an interview that the projection cannot be sustained indefinitely: "It can't continue forever. The nature of exponentials is that you push them out and eventually disaster happens". He also noted that transistors eventually would reach the limits of miniaturization at atomic levels:
In terms of size [of transistors] you can see that we're approaching the size of atoms which is a fundamental barrier, but it'll be two or three generations before we get that far—but that's as far out as we've ever been able to see. We have another 10 to 20 years before we reach a fundamental limit. By then they'll be able to make bigger chips and have transistor budgets in the billions.—
Some see the limits of the law as being in the distant future.
Lawrence Krauss and Glenn D. Starkman announced an ultimate limit of approximately 600 years in their paper, based on rigorous estimation of total information-processing capacity of any system in the Universe, which is limited by the Bekenstein bound. On the other hand, based on quantum theory and the laws of thermodynamics, there are predictions that Moore's law will collapse in the next few decades [20–40 years]".
Then again, the law often has met obstacles that first appeared insurmountable, but were indeed surmounted before long. In that sense, Moore says he now sees his law as more beautiful than he had realized: "Moore's law is a violation of Murphy's law. Everything gets better and better."
Consequences and limitations
Technological change is a combination of more and of better technology. A 2011 study in the journal Science showed that the peak of the rate of change of the world's capacity to compute information was in the year 1998, when the world's technological capacity to compute information on general-purpose computers grew at 88% per year. Since then, technological change clearly has slowed. In recent times, every new year allowed humans to carry out roughly 60% of the computations that possibly could have been executed by all existing general-purpose computers before that year. This still is exponential, but shows the varying nature of technological change.
The primary driving force of economic growth is the growth of productivity, and Moore's law factors into productivity. Moore (1995) expected that “the rate of technological progress is going to be controlled from financial realities.” The reverse could and did occur around the late-1990s, however, with economists reporting that "Productivity growth is the key economic indicator of innovation."
An acceleration in the rate of semiconductor progress contributed to a surge in U.S. productivity growth, which reached 3.4% per year in 1997–2004, outpacing the 1.6% per year during both 1972–1996 and 2005–2013. As economist Richard G. Anderson notes, “Numerous studies have traced the cause of the productivity acceleration to technological innovations in the production of semiconductors that sharply reduced the prices of such components and of the products that contain them (as well as expanding the capabilities of such products).”
While physical limits to transistor scaling such as source-to-drain leakage, limited gate metals, and limited options for channel material have been reached, new avenues for continued scaling are open. The most promising of these approaches rely on using the spin state of electron spintronics, tunnel junctions, and advanced confinement of channel materials via nano-wire geometry. A comprehensive list of available device choices shows that a wide range of device options is open for continuing Moore's law into the next few decades. Spin-based logic and memory options are being developed actively in industrial labs, as well as academic labs.
Another source of improved performance is in microarchitecture techniques exploiting the growth of available transistor count. Out-of-order execution and on-chip caching and prefetching reduce the memory latency bottleneck at the expense of using more transistors and increasing the processor complexity. These increases are described empirically by Pollack's Rule, which states that performance increases due to microarchitecture techniques are square root of the number of transistors or the area of a processor.
For years, processor makers delivered increases in clock rates and instruction-level parallelism, so that single-threaded code executed faster on newer processors with no modification. Now, to manage CPU power dissipation, processor makers favor multi-core chip designs, and software has to be written in a multi-threaded manner to take full advantage of the hardware. Many multi-threaded development paradigms introduce overhead, and will not see a linear increase in speed vs number of processors. This is particularly true while accessing shared or dependent resources, due to lock contention. This effect becomes more noticeable as the number of processors increases. There are cases where a roughly 45% increase in processor transistors has translated to roughly 10–20% increase in processing power.
A negative implication of Moore's law is obsolescence, that is, as technologies continue to rapidly "improve", these improvements may be significant enough to render predecessor technologies obsolete rapidly. In situations in which security and survivability of hardware or data are paramount, or in which resources are limited, rapid obsolescence may pose obstacles to smooth or continued operations.
Because of the toxic materials used in the production of modern computers, obsolescence if not properly managed, may lead to harmful environmental impacts. On the other hand, obsolescence may sometimes be desirable to a company which can profit immensely from the regular purchase of what is often expensive new equipment instead of retaining one device for a longer period of time. Those in the industry are well aware of this, and may utilize planned obsolescence as a method of increasing profits.
Moore's law has affected the performance of other technologies significantly: Michael S. Malone wrote of a Moore's War following the apparent success of shock and awe in the early days of the Iraq War. Progress in the development of guided weapons depends on electronic technology. Improvements in circuit density and low-power operation associated with Moore's law, also have contributed to the development of technologies including mobile telephones and 3-D printing.
Other formulations and similar observations
Several measures of digital technology are improving at exponential rates related to Moore's law, including the size, cost, density, and speed of components. Moore wrote only about the density of components, "a component being a transistor, resistor, diode or capacitor," at minimum cost.
Transistors per integrated circuit – The most popular formulation is of the doubling of the number of transistors on integrated circuits every two years. At the end of the 1970s, Moore's law became known as the limit for the number of transistors on the most complex chips. The graph at the top shows this trend holds true today.
Density at minimum cost per transistor – This is the formulation given in Moore's 1965 paper. It is not just about the density of transistors that can be achieved, but about the density of transistors at which the cost per transistor is the lowest. As more transistors are put on a chip, the cost to make each transistor decreases, but the chance that the chip will not work due to a defect increases. In 1965, Moore examined the density of transistors at which cost is minimized, and observed that, as transistors were made smaller through advances in photolithography, this number would increase at "a rate of roughly a factor of two per year".
Dennard scaling – This suggests that power requirements are proportional to area (both voltage and current being proportional to length) for transistors. Combined with Moore's law, performance per watt would grow at roughly the same rate as transistor density, doubling every 1–2 years. According to Dennard scaling transistor dimensions are scaled by 30% (0.7x) every technology generation, thus reducing their area by 50%. This reduces the delay by 30% (0.7x) and therefore increases operating frequency by about 40% (1.4x). Finally, to keep electric field constant, voltage is reduced by 30%, reducing energy by 65% and power (at 1.4x frequency) by 50%.[note 2] Therefore, in every technology generation transistor density doubles, circuit becomes 40% faster, while power consumption (with twice the number of transistors) stays the same.
The exponential processor transistor growth predicted by Moore does not always translate into exponentially greater practical CPU performance. Since around 2005–2007, Dennard scaling appears to have broken down, so even though Moore's law continued for several years after that, it has not yielded dividends in improved performance. The primary reason cited for the breakdown is that at small sizes, current leakage poses greater challenges, and also causes the chip to heat up, which creates a threat of thermal runaway and therefore, further increases energy costs.
The breakdown of Dennard scaling prompted a switch among some chip manufacturers to a greater focus on multicore processors, but the gains offered by switching to more cores are lower than the gains that would be achieved had Dennard scaling continued. In another departure from Dennard scaling, Intel microprocessors adopted a non-planar tri-gate FinFET at 22 nm in 2012 that is faster and consumes less power than a conventional planar transistor.
Quality adjusted price of IT equipment – The price of information technology (IT), computers and peripheral equipment, adjusted for quality and inflation, declined 16% per year on average over the five decades from 1959 to 2009.  The pace accelerated, however, to 23% per year in 1995–1999 triggered by faster IT innovation, and later, slowed to 2% per year in 2010–2013.
The rate of quality-adjusted microprocessor price improvement likewise varies, and is not linear on a log scale. Microprocessor price improvement accelerated during the late 1990s, reaching 60% per year (halving every nine months) versus the typical 30% improvement rate (halving every two years) during the years earlier and later. Laptop microprocessors in particular improved 25–35% per year in 2004–2010, and slowed to 15–25% per year in 2010–2013.
The number of transistors per chip cannot explain quality-adjusted microprocessor prices fully. Moore's 1995 paper does not limit Moore's law to strict linearity or to transistor count, “The definition of 'Moore's Law' has come to refer to almost anything related to the semiconductor industry that when plotted on semi-log paper approximates a straight line. I hesitate to review its origins and by doing so restrict its definition.”
Moore (2003) credits chemical mechanical planarization (chip smoothing) with increasing the connectivity of microprocessors from two or three metal layers in the early 1990s to seven in 2003. This progressed to nine metal layers in 2007 and thirteen in 2014. Connectivity improves performance, and relieves network congestion. Just as additional floors may not enlarge a building's footprint, nor is connectivity tallied in transistor count. Microprocessors rely more on communications (interconnect) than do DRAM chips, which have three or four metal layers. Microprocessor prices in the late 1990s improved faster than DRAM prices.
Hard disk drive areal density – A similar observation (sometimes called Kryder's law) was made as of 2005 for hard disk drive areal density. Several decades of rapid progress resulted from the use of error correcting codes, the magnetoresistive effect, and the giant magnetoresistive effect. The Kryder rate of areal density advancement slowed significantly around 2010, because of noise related to smaller grain size of the disk media, thermal stability, and writability using available magnetic fields.
Network capacity – According to Gerry/Gerald Butters, the former head of Lucent's Optical Networking Group at Bell Labs, there is another version, called Butters' Law of Photonics, a formulation that deliberately parallels Moore's law. Butter's law says that the amount of data coming out of an optical fiber is doubling every nine months. Thus, the cost of transmitting a bit over an optical network decreases by half every nine months. The availability of wavelength-division multiplexing (sometimes called WDM) increased the capacity that could be placed on a single fiber by as much as a factor of 100. Optical networking and dense wavelength-division multiplexing (DWDM) is rapidly bringing down the cost of networking, and further progress seems assured. As a result, the wholesale price of data traffic collapsed in the dot-com bubble. Nielsen's Law says that the bandwidth available to users increases by 50% annually.
Pixels per dollar – Similarly, Barry Hendy of Kodak Australia has plotted pixels per dollar as a basic measure of value for a digital camera, demonstrating the historical linearity (on a log scale) of this market and the opportunity to predict the future trend of digital camera price, LCD and LED screens, and resolution.
The great Moore's law compensator (TGMLC), also known as Wirth's law – generally is referred to as bloat and is the principle that successive generations of computer software increase in size and complexity, thereby offsetting the performance gains predicted by Moore's law. In a 2008 article in InfoWorld, Randall C. Kennedy, formerly of Intel, introduces this term using successive versions of Microsoft Office between the year 2000 and 2007 as his premise. Despite the gains in computational performance during this time period according to Moore's law, Office 2007 performed the same task at half the speed on a prototypical year 2007 computer as compared to Office 2000 on a year 2000 computer.
Library expansion – was calculated in 1945 by Fremont Rider to double in capacity every 16 years, if sufficient space were made available. He advocated replacing bulky, decaying printed works with miniaturized microform analog photographs, which could be duplicated on-demand for library patrons or other institutions. He did not foresee the digital technology that would follow decades later to replace analog microform with digital imaging, storage, and transmission media. Automated, potentially lossless digital technologies allowed vast increases in the rapidity of information growth in an era that now sometimes is called an Information Age.
The Carlson Curve – is a term coined by The Economist  to describe the biotechnological equivalent of Moore's law, and is named after author Rob Carlson. Carlson accurately predicted that the doubling time of DNA sequencing technologies (measured by cost and performance) would be at least as fast as Moore's law. Carlson Curves illustrate the rapid (in some cases hyperexponential) decreases in cost, and increases in performance, of a variety of technologies, including DNA sequencing, DNA synthesis, and a range of physical and computational tools used in protein expression and in determining protein structures.
- The trend begins with the invention of the integrated circuit in 1958. See the graph on the bottom of page 3 of Moore's original presentation of the idea.
- Active power = CV2f
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Just last quarter, we celebrated the 50th anniversary of Moore's Law. In 1965 when Gordon's paper was first published, he predicted a doubling of transistor density every year for at least the next 10 years. His prediction proved to be right and in fact, in 1975 looking ahead to the next 10 years, he updated his estimate to a doubling every 24 months.
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A decade later, he revised what had become known as Moore’s Law: The number of transistors on a chip would double every two years.
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Moore also affirmed he never said transistor count would double every 18 months, as is commonly said. Initially, he said transistors on a chip would double every year. He then recalibrated it to every two years in 1975. David House, an Intel executive at the time, noted that the changes would cause computer performance to double every 18 months.
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We won’t have the rate of progress that we've had over the last few decades. I think that’s inevitable with any technology; it eventually saturates out. I guess I see Moore’s law dying here in the next decade or so, but that’s not surprising.
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The last two technology transitions have signaled that our cadence today is closer to two and a half years than two,” Intel CEO Brian Krzanich said during a conference call
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It's official: Moore's Law is slowing down. ... "These transitions are a natural part of the history of Moore's Law and are a by-product of the technical challenges of shrinking transistors while ensuring they can be manufactured in high volume," Krzanich said.
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|Wikibooks has a book on the topic of: The Information Age|
- Intel press kit released for Moore's Law's 40th anniversary, with a 1965 sketch by Moore
- The Lives and Death of Moore's Law – By Ilkka Tuomi; a detailed study on Moore's Law and its historical evolution and its criticism by Kurzweil.
- No Technology has been more disruptive... Slide show of microchip growth
- Intel (IA-32) CPU Speeds 1994–2005. Speed increases in recent years have seemed to slow down with regard to percentage increase per year (available in PDF or PNG format).
- Current Processors Chart
- International Technology Roadmap for Semiconductors (ITRS)
- Gordon Moore His Law and Integrated Circuit, Dream 2047 October 2006
- A C|net FAQ about Moore's Law
- ASML's 'Our Stories', Gordon Moore about Moore's Law, ASML Holding