Are computers getting twice as fast every year?

05 November 2019

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Question

Are computers getting twice as fast every year?

 

Answer

Peter Cowley answered this question...

Peter Cowley - Now this comes from Moore, Gordon Moore, who was one of the founding co-founders of Intel a long time ago and that was true between the mid 60s and mid 70s doubling every year. Then he changed it to doubling every second year up till about 2012 and it slowed down again. And we expect this to run out in about 2025. This is speeding up. Purely because we're running out of space on the chip, so it's going down to three nanometer architectural mode which is only 15 silicon atoms across and so how do you create a transistor where you're getting down to the atomic level almost?

Chris Smith - So basically the components on the chip are getting so small now that they're it's impossible really to shrink them practically any further than we already have?

Peter Cowley - Using the technology that's based on semiconductors. Of course we might be using other forms of technology - quantum computing as we mentioned or some sort of light processing. So yeah we're running out of that. But there is a bigger problem. Just to give you an example, I brought a computer in to show a couple years ago which had 3000 transistors on which I built in 1975. There are 260 billion transistors in this phone in my hand. But again, this isn't the problem, it's not the speed of the process that really matters, unless you've got a supercomputer, because the software sits on top of it and the software is getting more and more bloated and again to give a little example here I wrote some code back in the late 70s and I spent nearly six weeks trying to remove 40 bytes, not kilobytes, or megabytes, out of this code so it would fit in a particular chip size which was two killer bytes long. So, I spent six weeks! But nowadays because memory hard disks, everything is so plentiful. software is just getting bigger, and bigger, and because of this actually the speeding up of the things isn't happening nearly as fast as the hardware is improving.

Chris Smith - I have noticed actually that I haven't had to buy a new computer for a long time. And it hasn't actually deteriorated in performance terms! What I could have replaced it with wouldn't be that much better than the computer I'd had for the last five years 10 years whatever and the thing that does shock me as you say is the software bloat, because the first computer I ever owned was a BBC model B microcomputer. It taught me to program had 32k of random access memory not 32 gigs. You know the idea of that sort of amount of memory.

Peter Cowley - Mine had 32 bytes and I'm not that much older than you.

Chris Smith - It's just amazing isn't it! The pace it moves on.

Peter Cowley - So software is the problem not the actual hardware that's building it.

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