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Forty years of Moore's Law

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The article outlined what became known as Moore's Law, the observation that the number of transistors--tiny on/off switches that churn out electrical signals that get represented as 1s and 0s--on a chip can be doubled in a short period of time. Adopted as a yardstick by the tech industry, the concept is one of the reasons the industry evolved into a high-growth, but high-risk, affair.

This FAQ explains the impact and consequences of the principles set down in the April 19, 1965, article.

When writing the article, Moore noted that the number of devices (which then included transistors and resistors) inside chips was doubling every year, largely because engineers could shrink the size of transistors. That meant that the performance and capabilities of semiconductors was growing exponentially and would continue to. In 1975, Moore amended the law to state that the number of transistors doubled about every 24 months.

When the paper first came out, chips sported about 60 distinct devices. By contrast, Intel's latest Itanium chip comes with 1.7 billion silicon transistors.

As monumental as the article has become, it wasn't a big deal then. It started on page 114 of the magazine.

"It wasn't something you expected to join the archives," Moore said in a recent gathering with reporters. "I didn't think it would be especially accurate."

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