Electronic Product Design

Tuesday, 19 May 2015 00:00 Written by

circuit board fisheye 200Processing Arms Race

The race to stay at the forefront of processing power has seen the biggest and best in the field fork out billions of dollars on sprawling design/manufacturing campuses located around the world. Processor designers are up against it. As our desires for technology to rapidly evolve, to be faster, smaller, stronger, better in every way ramp up, so must the design work behind the scenes.

Moore’s Law

Moore’s Law states: the number of transistors per square inch on integrated circuits will double each year, for the foreseeable future. The prediction was made in 1965 by Gordon Moore, co-founder of global processing powerhouse, Intel. So far, so right. But keeping up with the prediction is becoming increasingly expensive as the technology required to develop such powerful, minute devices requires equal investment.

It can be argued that Moore’s prediction has actually set the tone for our rapid technological progression, encouraging all processor developers to continue innovating at this breakneck pace, delivering more computational power and lower-power consumption concurrently. Other aspects of modern life have altered the processing “arms” race, too.

For instance, in 1966 a new chip manufacturing plant cost around $14 million (roughly $100 million adjusted for inflation) – today, a new plant can cost as much as $10 billion, or around the total GDP of Zimbabwe. The result is a relentless pursuit of processing power versus the need for constant innovation versus associated costs, all of which matter greatly to the technology world.

We Need More Power

It seems incredible to say this, but we really do. The first generations of processors ran small computers, small mainframes, networks and the like. The next generations of processors must be able to power driverless cars, robots, wearable technologies, space-travel and much, much more. Computational power is in demand more than ever before, and companies like Intel continuously dream big to enable the dreams of others.

The spending shows this, too. Intel reportedly spent some $11 billion on R&D last year alone – more than double its closest challenger, Qualcomm. But it also shows in the massive revenues across the processor manufacturing sector, growing to $340 billion last year, an 8% increase on the previous year.

Will It Stop?

At some point the manic development and innovation must come to an end – but when? Some predict within the decade, whilst others are more optimistic, hoping for another 50 years. And the downright pessimistic believe it has already stopped, noting that smartphones are now only receiving incremental upgrades year on year, rather than the stonking gains seen through the 00s.

When the stop does happen, our world may change. We’ve spent so long pushing forwards that a plateau seems likely, but many companies will struggle to cope with a changing technology world. The resulting economic stagnation will likely cripple a number of massive organisations, sending ripples around the world, taking other organisations with them. I mean, I’m not talking WW3 here, but there would be some serious repercussions to consider.

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