Demonstrating Moore’s Law: A sideways view

Here’s the start of the wikipedia entry for Moore’s Law:

Moore’s law describes an important trend in the history of computer hardware: that the number of transistors that can be inexpensively placed on an integrated circuit is increasing exponentially, doubling approximately every two years.[1] The observation was first made by Intel co-founder Gordon E. Moore in a 1965 paper.[2][3][4] The trend has continued for more than half a century and is not expected to stop for another decade at least and perhaps much longer.[5]

Here’s the diagram that tends to go alongside such text, also from Wikipedia:

The trouble with all this is that normal people are not necessarily used to log scales, nor to statements about exponential growth in the capacity for placing inexpensive transistors in an integrated circuit. Which means that people’s eyes glaze over when I start talking to them about Moore’s Law. [Well actually most people make sure their eyes glaze over as soon as I start talking, regardless of subject, but that’s another matter.]

Where was I? Oh yes. Moore and his Law. I find this a simpler way of explaining it:

The chart above tracks the price per gigabyte storage in an iPod, and how that has varied over the years and generations. I’ve been using it for a while, and now it’s getting a little dated. Haven’t seen a more recent version, I sourced the chart from a James Stoup article in AppleMatters a few years ago.

If anyone has a more recent iPod/iPhone version i’d love to see it. Comments? Views? Have you found better ways of explaining Moore’s Law to my grandmother?

8 thoughts on “Demonstrating Moore’s Law: A sideways view”

  1. I wonder if we can extrapolate to when all the worlds music would fit in your IPOD and whether by that time the copyright issues will be sorted out!

  2. my grandmother told me the story about a poor man who won a chess game against the king; all he wanted was one grain of rice in the first square, 2 in the second, 4 in the third…she just said that 2 raised to 63 was beyond comprehension

  3. I think the explanation of Moore’s law depends on the point of it.

    Is it that every 2 years things change enough that significant advances can take place every 2 years? In which case showing a logarithmic scale is not important.

    Is it that in a specific technology the rate of change starts getting faster and faster and diffcult to control and items become commodities? In which case you want to show the figures in some cool, logarithmic way, sort of as they hit a wall.

    The reason people don’t understand Moore’s Law is that it’s been repeated so often (like some cool buzzword) but its significance is never explained.


  4. Manufacturers trying to explain storage volumes to the layman talk in terms of the number of songs a device can hold, or the number of pictures. Clearly they use some arbitrary number of kilobytes as “a song” or “a picture”.

    This is about as useful as describing length in terms of London buses, height in terms of Nelson’s Columns and area in terms of football pitches, but these are the standard units of journalese and generations of journalists, some of them smart and a few even numerate, have failed to come up with a better system.

    At least the examples I have given have standard, checkable dimensions. I doubt there is any such agreement between manufacturers as to what amount of storage constitutes “a song” or “a picture”, and of course pictures are getting bigger too as the number of pixels on a CCD increases (with Moore’s Law?) so this unit is doubly meaningless.

    Notwithstanding this rant, if we can agree on a standard amount of storage for a meaningful (to the layman) item then there is the basis for an explanation of Moore’s Law to your elderly relatives.

    2004 MP3 player: 500 songs
    2006 MP3 player: 1000 songs
    2008 MP3 player: 2000 songs

    1. I’m guessing the storage of a typical solid-state MP3 player has grown faster than Moore’s Law as the market has exploded.

    2. I’m always suspicious of the elderly relative argument – my mother was programming the mainframe at Leeds University when I was a toddler. Not much point me trying to explain stuff to her that she already knows.

  5. p.s. On rereading my comment, I realise that “doubly meaningless” is poor English. Something is either meaningless or it isn’t. Oh for a comment editor.

  6. In explaining Moore’s law, shouldn’t cost be part of the equation? That is, it doubles every 2 years without affecting the cost of producing the CPU… as far as I can remember (15 years) the price of the “top spec” CPU over the years has been more or less constant (few hundred pounds), if not slightly decreasing.

  7. In 1980, my university bought a 1 MIPS computer for $1 million. In 1987, I bought a 1 MIPS computer for $5,300.

    In 1986, a supercomputer went for $16 million. By 1993, a desktop machine of the same performance went for $2,000. Now i have one in my shirt pocket for $300.

    When i first started saying this, people said, “But you’re new toy doesn’t have the I/O that the old system had.” But the new toy was always faster. For example, my shirt pocket computer can easily support 10,000 simultaneous users. I can just put some web apps up, and they can get to it. Honest!

    All this is driven by Moore’s Law.

Let me know what you think

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