5 January, 2010
We live in an electronic age, where the microprocessor is ubiquitous. So pervasive is the use of integrated circuitry, that we have become indifferent to the phenomenal computational power surrounding us, and hence blithe to it’s disposability. In the late 60s when semiconductor technology was in its infancy, and the integrated circuit was still a novelty, a young scientist at Caltech, named Gordon Moore made the insight that the number of transistors on an integrated circuit was doubling every 18 months or so. This speculation became known as ‘Moore’s Law’, and has held up surprisingly well, with contemporary CPU chips containing millions upon millions of transistors, and increasing in computational power at an exponential rate.
With such growth comes inevitable redundancy – the state-of-the-art gadget you crave today will be left to gather dust in the back of a drawer in a couple of years time. It’s easy to lose sight of this rate of change, in fact, that we don’t just take it for granted, but actively expect smaller, faster, more feature-filled devices to replace the ones we found miraculous just a few months ago.
4-colour spray stencil on DEC Hi-Note Laptop
Which brings us to this piece – a portrait of Gordon Moore, from the 60s, about the time he first suggested his ‘law’. I have stencilled the portrait onto a 1995 DEC Hi-Note Laptop, which when released was a state-of-the-art device, retailing for £2360 + VAT – and now worth less than the price of a canvas.
I tried to estimate how many (now worthless) transistors this device contains:
- CPU – 486DX = approx 1 million
- Screen (800×600, colour) = 800x600x3= 1,440,000
- RAM (24MB) = 24x1024x1024x8 = 243,793,920
- Supporting chipset = approx 0.5M
This rough calculation suggests there are nearly 250 million transistors in this device alone. As you can see, the device has an ‘Intel inside’ sticker – After leaving Caltech, Gordon Moore went on to found the Intel Corporation, and now has an estimated personal worth of $3.7B …
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