Microprocessors, part II

To pick up where I left off in my previous post, this race to cram up as many transistors as possible onto an integrated circuit made the microprocessor not only more powerful, but much more smaller. This enabled engineers to create all these smart portable devices that we now use on a daily basis – smartphones, tablets or laptops.

So the size of a transistor now on a microchip is at nanoscale. You cannot even use a conventional microscope to see them. There’s special equipment involved, like the scanning electron microscope. In this universe, you reach the quantum mechanics, where electrons can pass through very thin walls, even if they don’t have enough kinetic energy to break through the barriers.

But electronics depend on a controlled flow of electrons, so such behaviour as in the example above, is tried to be prevented as much as possible. This is of course only one problem the engineers are facing in order to produce a better, improved microprocessor that we can unknowingly use.

All this development will definitely have an end someday. As you cannot possibly add transistors to a circuit infinitely. It might be a technical barrier (no new ways to make smaller components) or even an economical one (too expensive to produce). When is that going to happen? We’ll never know until it will actually happen. It’s up to the manufacturers to say they reached the final barrier.

To be honest, soon, these highly powerful processor won’t be addressing the average user anymore. They will be useful in research laboratories, where you need to handle and store a lot of data or in other engineering environments – weather prediction or astronomy studies. The normal consumer is mostly using its computer for simple tasks like browsing the Web, editing a document, sending emails or playing games. For that, the current processors are doing just fine and they offer loads of power. With the increasing popularity of cloud computing, now the burden of processing and storing data to a network of computers will disappear too.

To wrap up, Moore’s Law states that every 18 or 24 months, the number of transistors on a circuit will double. This law was stated in 1965 and it is still true today. Engineers definitely don’t want to disappoint Gordon Moore so it acts a great motivation for innovation!