Citation: PLOS ONE 16 (8): e0256245 2021
Link: https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0256245 [external link]
Gordon Moore famously observed that the number of transistors in state-of-the-art integrated circuits (units per chip) increases exponentially, doubling every 12–24 months. Analysts have debated whether simple exponential growth describes the dynamics of computer processor evolution. We note that the increase encompasses two related phenomena, integration of larger numbers of transistors and transistor miniaturization. Growth in the number of transistors per unit area, or chip density, allows examination of the evolution with a single measure. Density of Intel processors between 1959 and 2013 are consistent with a biphasic sigmoidal curve with characteristic times of 9.5 years. During each stage, transistor density increased at least tenfold within approximately six years, followed by at least three years with negligible growth rates. The six waves of transistor density increase account for and give insight into the underlying processes driving advances in processor manufacturing and point to future limits that might be overcome.