Ever more powerful, ever faster: computer technology continues to develop at an incredibly rapid pace. On 19th April 1965 Intel co-founder Gordon Moore formulated his law of the semiconductor industry: that the number of transistors on a chip doubles every twelve months – later corrected by Moore to 24 months. This bold forecast has not only largely held good over the past four decades, but has also become a kind of barometer of technological progress.
The Heinz Nixdorf MuseumsForum (HNF) is marking this anniversary in April 2005 by presenting Moore’s Law as it has never been seen before: as a “chip pagoda” which illustrates the dynamic history of microelectronics over the past 40 years in extremely impressive fashion. One special attraction was added in 2020: a tablet that uses augmented reality to tell the story of the rapid rise of the semiconductor. On the screen, the real Chip Pagoda melds with the virtual explanations and graphic overlays. One spectacular feature is a virtual electric car that drives into the museum and opens the door for visitors to climb in.
Doubling the number of transistors on a chip is equivalent to halving the chip surface area while retaining the same packing density. The HNF demonstrates the continuous minimisation of the chip surface area over the years in 20 stages – from a basic area of 270 x 270 centimetres in 1965 right up to the present-day surface area of 3.5 x 3.5 millimetres. The individual levels of the pagoda consist of illuminated plexiglass panes. The display is lit by some 3,500 LEDs and weighs over 800 kilograms in total. This presentation is accompanied by a multimedia station containing the most important original papers, facts and statements on Moore’s Law.
For researchers and developers in the semiconductor industry, Moore’s Law has long served as a target which has to be met at all costs. Thus this law has become a self-fulfilling prophecy. However, it is a matter of debate as to how long it will remain in force. Miniaturisation is bound to come up against its physical limits sooner or later, although many experts feel that the law will still live to see its 50th birthday.