The death of Moore's Law, predicted annually for the past decade, may not be as bad for the electronics industry, as opposed to what some hand-wringers have expected. Unless you work for Intel, that is. In fact, it might unleash a new wave of innovation driven by user expectation rather than an engineers’ linear imagination.
Huang pointed out that Moore's Law has been very good for Big Silicon over the past several decades with the x86 architecture scuttling every attempt to supplant its supremacy (anyone remember the Alpha chip?). And while that has been very good for Intel and its customers, it has also buried real innovation based on end-user needs.
But as the physical limitations of silicon have put up very real barriers to the continuation of the Moore paradigm, the opportunity for that innovation has opened wide, Huang said.
At the basis of this "revolution" is the reality that a six- to eight-year development cycle for new products is no longer that unrealistic, now that hardware performance upgrades won’t be happening every 18 months, as per Moore. The performance upgrades are now coming from hardware and software optimization on competing platforms like ARM and Imagination Technologies cores.
"It wasn't too long ago that an ARM-based processor was the basis for toasters and DVD players. Today those cores are viable options for servers and 64-bit cores are not that far away," Huang predicted.
But even more important is the trend to recycling components and the easily obtainable how-to manuals available from China, where, Huang said, a growing industry makes it possible to build your own devices running on open source software. There is a glut of electronic devices and systems in the world that contain perfectly sound components that can be harvested and sold for pennies on the dollar against new components. That same industry is producing manuals for the component buyers guiding them though the build. Those same components can be used to repair existing products.
Yes, that may violate Western patent laws, but the reality is, the cows are out of the barn and it is extremely difficult to put them back in now. Component harvesting is beginning in the west for engineers who want to build their own prototypes and can't get the attention of major component manufacturers because they are too small to be taken seriously as customers. Since these innovators are no longer handcuffed to Moore's Law advances, they can take their time and actually consider user needs and produce beta products before ever making the "big buy" from major suppliers.
The availability of inexpensive components, reliable documentation and open-source software, according to Huang, mean it may be possible, within a decade, to see the availability of low-cost and open-source hardware for general consumer purchase.