Engineer servers

Is this a symptom of the recession or has the Moore’s Effect plateaued?

Moore’s Law predicts that advances in device fabrication double the number of transistors possible on any given piece of silicon approximately every two years.

This has lead to a constant performance increase in computing over the last 40 years. That is, a near-linear improvement in CPU speed and storage capacity.

It has also lead to another notable effect – a rapid depreciation in the cost of new hardware over the first couple of years after a device first goes on sale.

For example I built a server in 2005. Within 2 years the price I paid for the motherboard, CPU and RAM had collapsed to less than half what I paid initially. In fact it allowed me to upgrade the CPU, RAM and hard disks to give a vast performance increase for less than I paid for the original components.

Fast forward 5 more years to early summer 2012 when I built my last server. 18 months later the CPU and motherboard are still on sale. But the i7 3820 CPU is today exactly the same price I paid for it and the X79 chipset motherboard has actually increased in value, from just under £200 to over £260.

Even the Ripjaws 16GB quad-channel memory kit I bought has gone up 20 quid, something quite unusual after years of tumbling memory prices.

In fact the only notable depreciation is in the cost of enterprise-class hard disk storage, due to a couple of high performance 4TB disks entering the market in the intervening period.  So I might just be able to afford to upgrade from 2TB to 4TB RAID-1.

Of course this could just be a temporary blip due to a combination of the severe economic down turn we’re [hopefully] heading out of and the rapid decline of the desktop computer reducing the demand for traditional motherboards and leading to a temporary glut in the market in 2012.

However it could be an economic indicator that the Moore’s Effect is plateauing, meaning computer hardware will hold its value for longer and I’m denied the cheap performance boost I’d grown used to 2 years after I build a server.

By James Firth

Tech blogger previously at ComputerWorldUK and Slightly Right of Centre. CTO of Comprobo, a British technology start-up.

3 replies on “Is this a symptom of the recession or has the Moore’s Effect plateaued?”

I think you may have something here James. A dislocation in Moores Law where periodically unexpected external factors cause a deviaton from the standard trajectory. Moores Law just hasn’t been around long enough for us to have noticed the effect before now.

We should name this the Firth Deviation or Dislocation:) Congratulations.

Moore’s Law prevails! Alas, this was not the only factor contributing to the bonanza you have enjoyed from us hard-working silicon chip developers. Moore’s Law describes the doubling of transistor densities every 2 years and it still holds (though possibly not for much longer). It is the other factors that are letting you down. Silicon chips are made on large wafers which are processed through a series of expensive machines. For a long time the cost of processing a wafer has been more or less fixed, so a doubling of transistor density allowed us to halve the cost of a chip. We are losing some of this benefit because the cost of a wafer is increasing – essentially the machines are getting more expensive and we are having to use more of them. So, we still double the density but we don’t quite halve the cost. Another benefit you have enjoyed is that smaller transistors were faster, so we doubled the density, halved the cost and doubled the performance. Sadly, we are not seeing the same increase in transistor speeds as we shrink today’s technology. So, as we continue to double the density (Moore’s Law), we continue to reduce the cost (but not by half) and continue to go a faster (but not twice as fast).

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