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The Lowly Microchip

Written By: Kim Mussel
Have you ever really given a thought about how your phone, Ipod, computer or even coffee maker works? Inside every electronic device is a small little component without which our world would be a very different place. What is that little thing on which we depend so much? The lowly microchip.
Moore’s Law, first coined by Caltech profession Carver Mead around 1970, states that number of transistors that can be placed onto a microchip can be doubled every 18 to 24 months. In other words for the same dollar you can by twice as much computing power every 18 to 24 months. What does this mean to you and me? It means that for roughly the same amount of money as I spent for the PC that I bought in 1990 with a small little20 MB hard drive, a separate monitor, no external memory devices or peripherals and an 8 inch floppy drive that weight about 30 pounds and could heat a small room, in 2010 I could buy my 16 inch laptop with dual core processors running at about 100 times the speed that my big clunky computer could do.
This means that I can do multiple tasks at the same on my new computer that my first one couldn’t even imagine doing because it didn’t have the processing speed or memory capabilities. According to Scientific American the phone in my pocket has thousands of times as much memory and ten times as much processing power as a Cray 1 supercomputer. The Cray 1 weighed 10,000 pounds, took up a large room and cost tens of millions of dollars to create. Heck my smartphone does more than that expensive paperweight I bought back in 1990 at 1/10th the cost.
The international accounting and consulting firm, Deloitte predicts in its annual “Predictions Report” that by the end of 2011 more than 50% of computing devices sold globally will not be personal computers as we’ve historically known them to be. So what will they be? Deloitte estimates that the combined sales of smartphones, tablets and non-PC netbooks will be well over 400 million units. These new devices will do everything our old tower computers could do and so much more. They will be lightweight, portable and powerful. That said, Deloitte still predicts that PC’s will continue to be the “workhorse computing platform” for most companies in 2011. While non-PC type platforms are growing exponentially, they still represent just about 25% of the computing marketplace.
Another trend with non-PC type products is the ability to customize and adapt the products to your particular need. No longer do you walk into Best Buy and see 15 laptops that are basically the same but with different cases. Now the configurations, performance and features are of such a wide variety of quality and price that making the decision to buy a computer isn’t quite so easy. Tablet computers come in a variety sizes with choices in memory sizes, graphics accelerators, screen resolution and processing speed. You can get your tablet with or without external memory capacities. Just a year or two ago the e-reader did nothing more than read books that you could only buy from just a couple of online retailers. Now you can buy that same e-reader for less than half the price, or for the same price as that original reader from 2 years ago, you can basically buy a whole tablet computer. There are actually 6 different kindles in price ranges and with functionalities depending on what you want to do with them and how much you want to spend.
What all of these examples show is that the trend toward product convergence, the bringing together of multiple functions and applications into one machine, i.e. a cell phone that is also a computer, that is also a camera, that is also a GPS navigational device, that is a wi-fi internet hotspot, all are possible because of continuing innovations and advances in microprocessors, semiconductors and power sources. I guess what my grandma said is true. it’s not what’s on the outside that matters as much as what’s on the inside.
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