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Moore’s Law is already dead.

August 3, 2010

In 1965, Gordon Moore famously proclaimed that processing power would double every 18-24 months or so.* Like clockwork, it has, validating what became known as Moore’s Law. It’s even been adapted to other tech advancements, from storage and bandwidth to, umm, software bloat.

(* Roughly stated. Click here for a more precise and detailed description.)

And for nearly as long, pundits have been predicting its imminent demise, saying that physical limits would make another doubling in two years impossible. Even Moore himself said in 1995 that “in about a decade, we’re going to see a distinct slowing in the rate at which the doubling occurs…”

Just a few years ago, this sort of chatter caused no shortage of hand-wringing. Tech innovation depended on this ever-increasing processing power. If the speed increases slowed, so would innovation. Fortunately, despite these dire warnings, Moore’s Law has continued to chug along. But when someone mentioned Moore’s Law recently, I realized that it’s been awhile since I’d heard the term. That never used to be the case. Something must have changed. Could it really be? I think so:

Moore’s Law became irrelevant before it became technically infeasible.

What happened? Here’s my take:

  • Attention has shifted from processor speeds to other metrics.
  • The notion of “good enough technology” has pervaded more and more aspects of technology.

Focusing on different metrics

The Ford Model T got 25 miles per gallon. My current car? 23mpg. Gas mileage simply wasn’t what auto manufacturers sought to improve until recently. On the flip side, my 200 horsepower engine whoops the Model T’s 20 ponies. And the seat belts, airbags, and anti-lock brakes sure are nice. But nowadays, I’m starting to care more and more about fuel efficiency. The analogy to the tech world is clear. And these days, things like improving battery life and keeping costs low matter more, as our technology becomes more mobile and embedded in more products.

Good enough technology

What’s more, the specs themselves often seem to matter less these days. It used to be a tech specs world. PC makers competed on clock speeds, printers revved up the pages per minute, and digital cameras jostled for megapixel supremacy. But gradually, the tech specs mattered less, and the focus shifted to the user’s experience. Last year, Wired, Gizmodo, and others chronicled this “Good Enough Revolution”. These days most people, even those that used to over-clock their 486 PCs, couldn’t tell you how “fast” their MacBook Pro or iPhone is. It’s just not about that anymore.

Taking a backseat

The upshot is that Moore’s Law isn’t nearly as important these days as it was even a few short years ago. I’m not saying Moore’s Law is entirely irrelevant, or destined for permanent obscurity – a doubling or quadrupling of processor power could open some amazing new uses – but for now, it’s definitely taken a backseat to other factors. That’s why Intel’s dominance is in trouble, and why ARM is “the most important tech company you’ve never heard of”.

So what? Make sure you’re focusing on your customers and the metrics that matter.

Zooming out, there’s an important lesson here. Companies should take stock of tried-and-true “laws,” and question whether these are still the most important metrics to be pursuing. You don’t want to be chasing after an irrelevant standard. And if others are fixated on doing so, that’s a prime opportunity for disruption.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. Josh permalink
    August 4, 2010 9:57 pm

    Actually, while processor speed may have become an irrelevant metric, Moore’s law is definitely not dead. In terms of clock speed Moore’s law has curbed, but in terms of computing power, as measured by transistor size and device density it has continued to chug along, unabated. In fact, Intel has several major steps in process improvement that will keep the demise of Moore’s law off for several years to come.

    Sure, clock speed has died as a useful metric for marketing, and that’s coincided with the technology being powerful enough that even your most modest device has more computing power than your casual user will ever notice. While that have made Moore’s law fade in the the background it’s still as constant as any other law – at least for a few years to come.

  2. Josh permalink
    August 4, 2010 10:39 pm

    Actually, nevermind. I only gave your post a quick read through and took exception with your title before posting my comment.

    Ignore my previous post, and replace it with: “I agree”

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  1. Speaking of Gordon « Natives Know

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