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Cover Story
Breaking Moore's Law
Soaring processor speeds eclipse MIPS marks.

-- by Jim Forbes

Microprocessor companies live and die by a concept known as Moore's Law. Popularized by Intel's chairman emeritus, Gordon Moore, it states that each new generation of computer chip doubles the power and CPU density (the number of transistors on a chip) of its predecessor.

Before 1984, a state-of-the-art PC microprocessor operated at under 8MHz, typically producing 1.5 million instructions per second (MIPS). Technically savvy owners often turned to third-parties for crystal oscillators that boosted 6MHz and 8MHz 80286s to 10MHz and 12MHz, but breaking the 12MIPS barrier was the stuff of dreams for most users through the late 1980s.

The PC world changed, however, with the introduction of the 80486 in late 1990; the 33MHz version of the 80486 produced an astonishing 27MIPS and was obviously capable of more. Today's race for speed really started with the 486. The Pentium processor became the first x86 chip to break the 100MIPS barrier in 1993, and succeeding generations have nearly quadrupled those first scores. The 266MHz Pentium IIs reviewed here routinely clocked a scorching 560MIPS.

Advanced Micro Devices, which holds cross-technology licenses with Intel, produces a Pentium-compatible chip called the K6. The AMD-K6 includes the same 57 multimedia instruction sets as the Pentium II and P55C Pentium families, and is available in 166MHz, 200MHz and 233MHz versions.

If you think today's new Pentium IIs, AMD-K6s or chips produced by Cyrix are fast, hold on to your keyboard. The 266MHz Pentium II is just one of several new processors Intel is expected to launch in the next 12 months. Other new microprocessors, such as the Deschutes family (the code name for the successor to the Pentium Pro) are expected to launch with clock speeds of 300MHz or better and are theoretically capable of producing between 700MIPS and 800MIPS.

By the turn of the century-a mere four years from now-a 266MHz Pentium II speedster is likely to be puttering along in the CPU slow lane. Researchers say it should be possible to produce 500-plus MHz chips for desktop computers which, equipped with gigabytes of system memory, will churn out more than 1,000MIPS. Now that's cooking.

Windows Magazine, June 1997, page 124.

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