Chris Edwards: October 2007 Archives

Hwang's costly law

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Samsung is trying hard to push the idea of Hwang's Law, as seen in the company's latest move to show off an experimental 64Gbit device. In 2002, the head of the Korean company's chip business Hwang Chang-gyu gave a speech at one of the chipmaking industry's biggest technical conferences, ISSCC. There, he claimed that flash memories would break away from the prevailing trend in the chip industry and double in size every year. That was something that happened only in the very early days of the business, at the point when Gordon Moore was putting together the graph that became Moore's Law.

For much of its history, the growth in the number of functions that you can get onto one chip has wobbled between a doubling every 18 months or two years. And a lot depends on how you measure the number of functions – something that Intel has made use of on several occasions. Right now, the rate seems to be a doubling every two years, which fits neatly with Intel's own plans. That may explain why Moore has recently been reminding people that he picked the two-year rate as he wrote his first article on it in the mid-1960s.

But Samsung seeks to break with convention, by upping the rate for flash memories, at least, to a doubling every year. And, roughly every autumn, the company has produced an example of a chip that could store twice as much as the last. So far, so good.

Samsung's relentless push looks as though it is coming at a cost.