Instruction Guide: Moore's Law

Note: This lesson in common to both the NXT and EV3 versions of STEM Robotics 101.

Walk students through the Moore’s Law PPT (use slideshow mode for proper animation)

Product X (slide 1)

  • Ask student what Product X could be
  • Typical answers: ipod, camera, computer, laptop, MP3 player, calculator
  • Ask students what all (or most) of these products have in common
    • Computer chips (electronics of some sort)
  • Provide the definition of a computer chip
  • Emphasize that a  computer chip is a network of transistors (review from Introduction to Computers lesson)

Computer Chip Colorized Photo (slide 2)

  • This is a Pentium 4 chip
  • Colorized to show detail of circuits
  • The P4 has 42 million transistors in it circuits

Computer Chip Photo - not colorized (slide 3)

  • This is how the chip looks to the naked eye
  • Silicon is grey-silver in color

Photo of 1st Transistor (slide 4)

  • Invented by Bell Labs in the 1940’s
  • Combined two different materials to create a semiconductor
  • In the 1950’s, engineers made multiple transistors on one piece or silicon

Moore’s Law Graph (slide 5)

  • In 1965 Gordon Moore looked back and graphed how many transistors engineers had been able to squeeze onto a single chip of silicon
  • He observed the “double in 2 years” trend
  • Manny years later this observation was coined “Moore’s Law”
  • He speculated that this may continue
    • Few people took his speculation seriously in 1965
  • A few years ago, Time magazine called this “the greatest human invention since the wheel”
    • ….. really??
      • Two years is a long time (especially to students)
      • Have students think about where they were 2 years ago
      • Ask them to imagine their ipod had 10 songs on it then
      • Now ask them to imagine that today, two years later, their ipod has 20 songs
      • Does that sound like such a great achievement?\
  • We’ll look at Moore’s Law a different way to help understand this…..

Moore’s Law Allowance Calendar (slide 6)

  • Set up the story of student who currently gets $10/wk of allowance
  • This student goes to their parent and proposes to use Moore’s Law to calculate their allowance:
    • They can get feedback everyday on how they are doing (like at school)
    • They will recalculate their allowance everyday
    • New allowance starts a one penny, but double everyday they meet all their responsibilities
    • They want to try for one month
  • Parent agrees, but wants to see how it’s going after one week, before committing to the month
    • (step through the animation until the end of the first week)
  • Allowance is $0.64 for first week (instead of $10.00)
    • Parent thinks this new allowance scheme looks pretty good
    • Student acts uncertain, but agrees to try it just until the end of the month
  • (step through animation until old scheme reaches end of the month)
    • Old allowance scheme is $50 for the month (if you round up)
    • Ask student to guess allowance for new scheme
      • New allowance is over $10,000,000!!
        • How can this be?
        • If you take something and double it just 30 times, you get over 1 Billion
        • 1 Billion pennies is $10M

Allowance Graphs (slides 7 to 10)

  • Next four slide graphically show both allowance schemes over the month
  • First slide shows Old allowance is higher than New
    • Notice scale is in low dollars
  • Second slide shows that New exceeds Old by the second week
    • Notice scale is 10’s of dollars
  • Third slide shows that New is into the 1000’s of dollars
    • Old looks like a flat-line on this scale
  • Last slide shows entire month
    • Scale now reaches in the millions of dollar range

Back to Moore’s Law graph (slide 11)

  • While two years seems like a long time for something to double…
  • Engineers have been at this for about 50 years
    • So, just like the allowance example , there have been many doublings

Moore’s Law Graphs (slides 12 to 24)

  • 70’s – kept on doubling as Moore speculated
    • Notice scale changes to 10’s of thousands of transistors on a single chip
    • First portable calculator; 4 functions, $500
      • Ask students for examples of better/faster/cheaper calculators
    • First Video Game; Pong – only in arcades at this time (too expensive for homes)
      • Ask students for examples of better/faster/cheaper video games\
  • 80’s – kept on doubling
    • Notice scale changes to millions of transistors on a single chip
    • First PC; No hard drive or mouse, $3,700
      • Ask students for examples of better/faster/cheaper computers
    • First “Portable” computer; tiny monitor, 28 lb (“luggable” PC), $ 3,500
      • Ask students for examples of better/faster/cheaper laptops
    • First Mobile Phone; Big, heavy, $4,000
      • Ask students for examples of better/faster/cheaper cell phones
  • 90’s – kept on doubling
    • Notice scale changes to 10’s of millions of transistors on a single chip
    • First digital camera; 1 MegaPixel; $13,000
      • Ask students for examples of better/faster/cheaper camera
    • First MP3 Player; only held 4 CD quality songs
      • It had a memory slot, like a camera today, so you could use multiple memory cards
      • Look at graph – only 16Mb memory cards at that time
        • Songs are ~ 1MB/minutes at CD quality, so 16Mb = 4 songs
      • One could choose lower quality sounds, to get more songs on card
      • Ask students for examples of better/faster/cheaper MP3 players/iPods
      • Ask students if they have noticed you can buy twice as big a memory card for the same price as the old one about every two years
        • That’s Moore’s Law at work in the memory chip industry
  • 21st Century – keeps on going….
    • Notice scale changes to 100’s of millions of transistors on a single chip
    • First TiVo; Digital Video recorder
    • First Video iPod
    • Today, Microprocessors (most complex computer chips) can have over one billion transistors on a single chip
      • ….and they are still smaller than a postage stamp

Moore’s Law Summary (slide 25)

  • This is the reason electronic products keep getting better/faster/cheaper
  • Huge impact on our lives
  • "Greatest human invention since the wheel”
  • Also very rare
    • Moore’s Law only applies to electronics
    • This is the very rare exception, not the rule, for human creations
      • Students are so acclimated to things getting better/faster/cheaper that they do not realize what an extraordinary exception this is; so by way of example…..

*** OPEN Moore's Law Auto PPT file for last slide in presentation

Moore’s Law in the Auto Industry

This slide does a side-by-side comparison of the computer chip industry and the auto industry from 1975 to 2008

  • It then show what would have happened in the auto industry if Moore’s Law had applied for just these 33 years

For Speed comparison, the chip clock speed (MHz = millions of cycles per second; GHz = billions of cycles per second) is compared to the cars to speed (mph)

For Efficiency, the chip are measured in MIPS (millions of instructions per second) and compared to the car’s fuel efficiency (mpg)

For Cost, the chip cost stayed the same, but the number of transistors on the chip for that cost is used, compared to the car sticker price.


  • Most famous computer chip was Intel 8080
  • Most famous car was Ferrari 308 (remember Magnum P.I.?)
  • Recite speed, efficiency and cost as a baseline for our comparison


  • Computer chip is Intel Quad-Core; Car is new Ferrari 430
  • Chips speed is 3.3Ghz (3,300 MHz) times four cores
  • Chip efficiency is 64,000 MIPS (100,000 fold increase from 1975)
  • Chip cost – still $300, but now you get 300,000,000 transistors for that price

What if… Moore’s Law had applied to the Auto Industry for just these 33 years (since 1975 thru 2008)

  • In 2008 the Ferrari 430 should:
    • Have top speed of 255,000 mph (over 1,000,000 mph by 2012)
    • Get 1,300,000 mpg (over 5,000,000 mpg by 2012)
    • Cost $0.19, before taxes…. (less than a nickel by 2012)
  • Have students recalculate these 3 numbers assuming Moore's Law had continued to apply to the auto industry until today
  • Emphasize the uniqueness of Moore’s Law in the electronics industry
    • Student have grown up surrounded by examples of Moore’s Law and often have the impression that this rapid better/faster/cheaper progression is just “the way the universe works”
    • A human-made invention that keeps doubling for 50 years is an extraordinary exception to “the way the universe works”
    • Asks student to speculate about the implications of Moore’s Law continuing for another 10 years, or 50 years?