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Intel says chips to become slower but more energy efficient

Intel has said that new technologies in chip manufacturing will favour better energy consumption over faster execution times – effectively calling an end to ‘Moore’s Law’, which successfully predicted the doubling of density in integrated circuits, and therefore speed, every two years.

It’s a prediction worth remembering, since Gordon E. Moore himself was the co-founder of Intel and Fairchild Semiconductor when he made the prediction that led to ‘Moore’s Law’ in a paper [PDF] back in 1965.

The prognosis comes from William Holt, Intel’s Executive Vice President and General Manager of its Technology and Manufacturing Group, speaking at the International Solid State Circuits Conference in San Francisco, and discussing the new technologies – such as tunnelling transistors (or ‘Quantum tunnelling’) and spintronics – which will define the next stages of evolution in computing.

“We’re going to see major transitions,” said Holt. “The new technology will be fundamentally different.” and continued “The best pure technology improvements we can make will bring improvements in power consumption but will reduce speed.”

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Holt elaborated that while Intel recognises the need to consider re-tooling its plants and committing to new technologies in chip production, it hasn’t made a decision about direction yet. Quantum tunnelling, though brought to advanced proof-of-concept by DARPA and the Semiconductor Research Corporation, is currently further from commercialisation than spintronics, which uses quantum mechanical properties of particles as switch facilitators, and which is expected to begin to appear in commercial technology such as graphic chips within 18 months.

What Holt has said suggests* not just that Moore’s Law is coming to an end in practical terms, in that chip speeds can be expected to stall, but is actually likely to roll back in terms of performance, at least in the early years of semi-quantum-based chip production, with power consumption taking priority over what has been the fundamental impetus behind the development of computers in the last fifty years.

“Particularly as we look at the Internet of things, the focus will move from speed improvements to dramatic reductions in power.”

It could be argued that both the consumer and business sectors have already prepared themselves for the low-energy paradigm that Holt discusses, having in the last ten years gradually sacrificed the faster and more powerful desktop computing experience for the low-end latency, compensated by mobility and reduced complexity, of smartphones and tablets.

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