I’ve always wanted to understand thoroughly, from an engineering point of view, how the computer works. So I found myself lost today into an article about Moore’s law and the microprocessors from the first semiconductors to the most performant processors we can think of today.
Technology as we perceive it today is not all about the beautiful code we write to make computers create amazing things. I think the most interesting part lies behind what’s inside all the devices we’re using now and how they manage to be so smart. What made radio, telephones, tv sets and computers possible is the transistor. Big thanks to John Bardeen and Walter Brattain who created it in 1947. Before it, people were using vacuum tubes, but as the telephone’s popularity grew considerabily in the 30s, they had to create something more powerful.
The next big step in the electronics world was made by the invention of the integrated circuit and the planar transistor. But the great achivement was made in 1961, when a company called Fairchild Semiconductor created the planar integrated circuit. After this, technology turned into a race. The race was to fit as many transistors as possible onto a single seminconductor waffer.
It’s up until today that we have this race. Large companies, such as Intel, invest heavily into research and deveopement in order to make sure they are the ones that are able to be better at this “electronic puzzle”. Let’s imagine that in 1965, there were only 50 conductors in an integrated circuit. Ten years later, there were 65,000. Curious to know how many there are today? Intel’s Core i7 microprocessor has no less than 731 million, while the Xeon one has 1.9 billion transistors.
I’ll follow up with more details in my next post about how small these transistors are now, but just a quick hint: it takes 2000 transistors to equal the thickness of a human hair. This will take us from the field of mechanical physics to the quantum one, which is governed by completely different laws.