In 1965, just a few years after the first integrated circuits saw the light of day, a chemist by the name of Dr. Gordon Moore made an observation that would become a guiding rule for the next forty years.
His prediction, affectionately dubbed 'Moore's Law' by the press, stated that the speed and number of transistors built into the latest integrated circuits would double every eighteen months. Three years later, in 1968, Moore would go on to co-found what is now the world’s largest semiconductor manufacturer, and would have a first-hand role in ensuring that his prediction would hold.
And hold it has. Intel’s first processors in the early 1970’s consisted of just one or two thousand transistors. That increased to tens of thousands in the late seventies as Intel pushed its 8086 processor. Progress continued through the hundreds of thousands of transistors with the 80286 and 80386 families, and finally reached the million transistor mark with the 486DX and its integrated FPU. The nineties was the decade of the Pentium processor, from its 3-million transistor introduction in 1993 to the 25-million transistor Pentium III in the late nineties. Finally, the current Pentium 4 processors boast a modest 55-million transistor count.
Key to increasing transistor count, and therefore performance, is the reduction of the size of those transistors. 55 million transistors as they were in 1970 would never have worked; the circuit would have been too huge and too hot to be practical. Decreasing the size of the transistors allows them to be made cheaper, switched faster, and run cooler. Over the decades we’ve seen transistors drop from several microns down to the current 0.13 micron technology.
Today we see the introduction of Intel’s smallest mass-produced transistor at just 0.09 microns (90 nanometers). Welcome, ladies and gentlemen, to Prescott Country.
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