If this is the golden age of technology, then its seeds were sown amid the convulsions of the semiconductor industry, way back in the 1980s. My perch at EE Times afforded me with a ringside seat to that history.
I was the newly minted semiconductor editor for EET, a recent refugee from hardcore design engineering (analog, mostly), when I attended my first International Solid State Circuits Conference, in a wintry, snowy Philadelphia in 1979. A few months earlier, Texas Instruments and IBM had demonstrated production capable 64k (yes, kilobits) DRAMs.
I remember two things from that conference. In his plenary address Intel founder Gordon Moore asked, “Are we really ready for VLSI squared?” where he openly wondered if advanced semiconductor manufacturing technology had outrun the ability of designers to exploit it. Moore speculated that unless it was applied to new, high volume products the emerging capability of Very Large Scale Integration-- propelled by rapid advances in sub-micron lithography--was in danger of being relegated to building ever denser memory chips.
Moore challenged both component and system suppliers to find new applications for the technology and closed with this: “In fact, unless we address and solve these problems, as we look back on the VLSI era, we may only be able to say, ‘Thanks for the memories.’"
Moore practiced what he preached. In the end, Intel ceded memories to Japan to focus on the most powerful demand engine for VLSI technology--the x86 microprocessor.
I remember those days also, all too well! I was probably one of the earliest subscribers; when did EETimes start? As a regular in the Immortal Works contests, I'm afraid that the current incarnation doesn't have quite the same cachet the original had! It was a lot more challenging to find some detail in an Old master painting to inspire a caption than looking at a cartoon! I still have the original pages from each Immortality I gained, along with a big badge-like pin trumpeting "I'm Immortal" awarded by EET. Regarding the PC, I was 15 years past BSEE and MSEE when i went to work at Siemens Telecommunications in Boca Raton for a couple of years, across the street from the IBM facility that was busy creating their first PC (some of my fellow ex-pats from Motorola were on that team).
I was working at one of the first computer stores in the Chicago area at that time and had to put up daily with the question delivered in a derisive manner, "What could you possibly use a home computer for?" That and the statement delivered as immutable fact that, "Businesses will never buy a personal computer to do their processing."
David Patterson, known for his pioneering research that led to RAID, clusters and more, is part of a team at UC Berkeley that recently made its RISC-V processor architecture an open source hardware offering. We talk with Patterson and one of his colleagues behind the effort about the opportunities they see, what new kinds of designs they hope to enable and what it means for today’s commercial processor giants such as Intel, ARM and Imagination Technologies.