Hello,

We noticed you're browsing in private or incognito mode.

To continue reading this article, please exit incognito mode or log in.

Not an Insider? Subscribe now for unlimited access to online articles.

Intelligent Machines

Mobile Computing is Transforming the Microprocessor Industry

  • by Stephen Cass
  • April 20, 2010
  • Intel’s family of i7 chips debuted with this four-core version in 2008.

Intel’s family of Core i7 chips, which are among today’s most powerful desktop processors, have as many as 774 million transistors, with channels just 100 silicon atoms across. The chips have four to six 64-bit computational cores that run at clock speeds of up to 3.3 gigahertz. In volume, one costs about $1,000; correcting for inflation, that’s about what the first commercial microprocessor, the Intel 4004, cost in 1971. Incredible advances in silicon technology over the last 40 years have made computers ubiquitous in homes and offices.

Microprocessors have also become commonplace in mobile devices such as cell phones, but until recently there was a vast gulf between the simple processors embedded in such things and their more complex cousins in personal computers. In the last few years, however, mobile processors have vastly increased in capability. Today, a smart phone might have a one-gigahertz processor and gigabytes of data storage, roughly equivalent to the computational power that a high-end desktop computer had in 2000. The implications are immense. The multi­media capabilities of modern cell phones are enabling millions of people in poor countries to access the Internet. And new mobile applications, such as location-based services and augmented reality, are moving into the mainstream.

The surging demand for mobile computing power is changing the way the semiconductor industry thinks about chips (see “Mobile Chips Threaten High-­Performance Manufacturers”). The constraints of batteries mean that performance per watt is replacing processing power as the metric that chip makers like to brag about. And the emphasis on networking and multimedia applications in mobile devices is moving manufacturers’ focus from general-purpose processors to those that have specialized circuitry for tasks such as handling audio and video (see “Designing for Mobility”). Manufacturers are also working out how to accommodate the limitations of silicon, which are making it harder and harder to deliver ever more processing power at an ever lower price (see “The High Cost of Upholding Moore’s Law”). Yet some of the biggest performance gains we’ll see in the next few years won’t come from new ways of making chips but from new ways of programming them (see “Multicore Processors Create Software Headaches”).

Want to go ad free? No ad blockers needed.

Become an Insider
Already an Insider? Log in.
More from Intelligent Machines

Artificial intelligence and robots are transforming how we work and live.

Want more award-winning journalism? Subscribe and become an Insider.
  • Insider Plus {! insider.prices.plus !}* Best Value

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Everything included in Insider Basic, plus the digital magazine, extensive archive, ad-free web experience, and discounts to partner offerings and MIT Technology Review events.

    See details+

    Print + Digital Magazine (6 bi-monthly issues)

    Unlimited online access including all articles, multimedia, and more

    The Download newsletter with top tech stories delivered daily to your inbox

    Technology Review PDF magazine archive, including articles, images, and covers dating back to 1899

    10% Discount to MIT Technology Review events and MIT Press

    Ad-free website experience

  • Insider Basic {! insider.prices.basic !}*

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Six issues of our award winning print magazine, unlimited online access plus The Download with the top tech stories delivered daily to your inbox.

    See details+

    Print Magazine (6 bi-monthly issues)

    Unlimited online access including all articles, multimedia, and more

    The Download newsletter with top tech stories delivered daily to your inbox

  • Insider Online Only {! insider.prices.online !}*

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Unlimited online access including articles and video, plus The Download with the top tech stories delivered daily to your inbox.

    See details+

    Unlimited online access including all articles, multimedia, and more

    The Download newsletter with top tech stories delivered daily to your inbox

/3
You've read of three free articles this month. for unlimited online access. You've read of three free articles this month. for unlimited online access. This is your last free article this month. for unlimited online access. You've read all your free articles this month. for unlimited online access. You've read of three free articles this month. for more, or for unlimited online access. for two more free articles, or for unlimited online access.