Time to dump Moore’s Law

An end to Moore’s Law will prompt chip­mak­ers to think out­side the box, re­veals

Tech Advisor - - Contents - Agam Shah

Dump­ing Moore’s Law is per­haps the best thing that could hap­pen to com­put­ers, as it’ll has­ten the move away from an aging com­puter ar­chi­tec­ture hold­ing back hard­ware in­no­va­tion.

That’s the view of prom­i­nent sci­en­tist R. Stan­ley Wil­liams, a se­nior fel­low in the Hewlett Packard Labs. Wil­liams played a key role in the cre­ation of the mem­ris­tor by HP in 2008.

Moore’s Law is an ob­ser­va­tion made by In­tel co-founder Gor­don Moore in 1965 that has helped make de­vices smaller and faster. It pre­dicts that the den­sity of tran­sis­tors would dou­ble ev­ery 18- to 24 months, while the cost of mak­ing chips goes down.

Ev­ery year, com­put­ers and mo­bile de­vices that are sig­nif­i­cantly faster can be bought with the same amount of money thanks in part to guid­ance from Moore’s Law. The ob­ser­va­tion has helped drive up de­vice per­for­mance on a pre­dictable ba­sis while keep­ing costs down.

But the pre­dic­tions tied to Moore’s Law are reach­ing their lim­its as it be­comes harder to make chips at smaller ge­ome­tries. That’s a chal­lenge fac­ing all top chip­mak­ers in­clud­ing In­tel, which is chang­ing the way it in­ter­prets Moore’s Law as it tries to cling on to it for dear life.

Wil­liams is the lat­est to join a grow­ing cadre of sci­en­tists who pre­dict Moore’s Law is dy­ing. The end of Moore’s Law “could be the best thing that has hap­pened to com­put­ing in decades,” Wil­liams wrote in a re­search pa­per pub­lished in the lat­est is­sue of IEEE Com­put­ing in Sci­ence and En­gi­neer­ing.

The end of Moore’s Law will bring cre­ativ­ity to chip and com­puter de­sign and help en­gi­neers and re­searchers think out­side the box, Wil­liams said. The law has bot­tled up in­no­va­tion in com­puter de­sign, he hinted.

So what’s next? Wil­liams pre­dicted there would be com­put­ers with a se­ries of chips and ac­cel­er­a­tors patched to­gether, much like the early forms of su­per­fast com­put­ers. Com­put­ing could also be mem­ory driven, with a much faster bus driv­ing speed­ier com­put­ing and through­put.

The idea of a mem­ory-driven com­puter plays to the strength of HPE, which has built The Ma­chine along those lines. The ini­tial ver­sion of The Ma­chine has per­sis­tent mem­ory that can be used as both DRAM and flash stor­age but could even­tu­ally be based on mem­ris­tor, an in­tel­li­gent form of mem­ory and stor­age that can track data pat­terns.

Mem­ory-driven com­put­ing could also break down the cur­rent ar­chi­tec­ture-based and pro­ces­sor-centric dom­i­na­tion of the com­puter mar­ket. In the longer term, neu­ro­mor­phic chips de­signed around the way the brain works could drive com­put­ing.

In the longer term, neu­ro­mor­phic chips that are de­signed around the way the brain works could drive com­put­ing. HPE is de­vel­op­ing a chip de­signed to mimic a hu­man brain, and sim­i­lar chips are be­ing de­vel­oped by IBM, Qualcomm, and univer­si­ties in the US and Europe.

“Al­though our un­der­stand­ing of brains to­day is lim­ited, we know enough now to de­sign and build cir­cuits that can ac­cel­er­ate cer­tain com­pu­ta­tional tasks,” Wil­liams wrote.

Ap­pli­ca­tions such as ma­chine learn­ing high­light the need for new types of pro­ces­sors. IBM has bench­marked its neu­ro­mor­phic chip called TrueNorth as be­ing faster and more power-ef­fi­cient than con­ven­tional deep-learn­ing chips like GPUs.

Wil­liams sug­gested ASICs and FPGAs (field-pro­gram­mable gate ar­rays) could play a role in driv­ing com­put­ing beyond Moore’s Law. These tech­nolo­gies will use su­per­fast in­ter­con­nects such as Gen Z, which was in­tro­duced last year and will be sup­ported by ma­jor chip­mak­ers and server mak­ers, in­clud­ing Dell and Hewlett Packard En­ter­prise.

Quan­tum com­put­ers are also emerg­ing as a way to re­place to­day’s PCs and servers, but are still decades away from run­ning ev­ery­day ap­pli­ca­tions.

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