Shifting from 28-nanometer to the smaller 20-nanometer architecture has taken longer than AMD had hoped, and this could signal the beginning of the end for Moore's law.
Back in 1965, Intel co-founder Gordon Moore noted that the total number of transistors within integrated circuits had doubled approximately every two years since 1958, and he predicted that this trend would continue "for at least 10 years". It continued a lot longer than that, up until 2010, in fact, when the International Technology Roadmap for Semiconductors finally started seeing evidence that the pace was slowing down at such a rate that by the end of 2013, it would take three years for the transistor count to double.
Now an industry insider is seeing the same thing. Speaking to The Inquirer, John Gustafson, chief graphics product architect at AMD, claimed that Moore's law is hitting the buffers because the law was always about the economics.
"You can see how Moore's law is slowing down," said Gustafson. "The original statement of Moore's law is the number of transistors that is more economical to produce will double every two years. It has become warped into all these other forms, but that is what he originally said."
And Gustafson should know what Moore said, because the phrase "Moore's law" was first coined by professor Carver Mead at Caltech, and Gustafson was a student of Mead's.
"We [AMD] want to also look for the sweet spot," said Gustafson, "because if you print too few transistors your chip will cost too much per transistor and if you put too many it will cost too much per transistor. We've been waiting for that transition from 28nm to 20nm to happen, and it's taking longer than Moore's law would have predicted.
"I'm saying you are seeing the beginning of the end of Moore's law."
Does the end of Moore's law mean that the sky is going to come crashing down on us? Well, yes and no. The PC industry is in terrible shape, and anything that comes along to put the brakes on progress is not good. A slower hardware upgrade cycle will mean that there will be less in the way of new CPUs and GPUs to tempt buyers.
The end of Moore's law is not good for the PC.
That said, CPU and GPU performance is already at the point where it offers more power than most users know what to do with. Silicon already comes with more cores and more threads than most applications can handle. What people want more than a faster CPU or GPU is a cheaper CPU or GPU.
Consumers are also turning their backs on traditional desktop and notebook PCs, and instead focusing on mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets. While there's a drive here to make silicon smaller and more compact, it is primarily driven by the desire to reduce battery consumption. While a breakdown of Moore's law might slow down progress here somewhat, users are far less likely to notice because the sale post-PC devices have rarely focused on the speed of the silicon.
Moore's law has served us well, and rather than be surprised that its era is drawing to a close, I for one am surprised that it reigned for as long as it did.