Back in 1965, Intel co-founder Gordon Moore observed that chip complexity seemed to double every year. This rate of improvement came to be known as Moore's Law.
Moore's Law has since been adjusted to reflect the slower, current 18-24 month doubling rate. Doubling chip complexity usually translates into a doubling of performance due to size reductions and speed increases.
Does Moore's law still apply? Intel released the Katmai Pentium 3 about eighteen months ago. The Katmai P3 has about 8.2 million transistors and had initial launch speeds in the 500MHz range. The current high-end Coppermine P3 processors have over 28 million transistors and speeds have hit the 1GHz mark.
The Coppermine's 3X transistor count increase is a bit misleading since the chip now includes 256KB of L2 cache on the core. The Katmai P3 had kept its L2 cache off-die on discrete SRAM chips. Nonetheless, you can't argue with the 2X clock speed increase. You could pick on Intel's "limited availability" disclaimer, but the high-speed chips do exist and are available from OEM system builders. Moore's Law seems to be holding up, but will it continue?
The Pentium 3 is nearing the end of the line. Even with the Coppermine's new 0.18 micron manufacturing process, Intel is having a hard time pushing out a sufficient supply of 1GHz+ chips. You may be wondering why AMD doesn't seem to have a problem with its high-speed Athlon chips. Yes, the Thunderbird Athlon also uses the 0.18 micron process, but the manufacturing process isn't the only factor that affects chip yields; the chip architecture also matters. The P3 architecture can no longer scale to higher speeds with ease. The Pentium 3 will eventually reach speeds ranging from 1.2GHz to 1.4GHz, but that won't be until Intel switches over to the 0.13 Tualatin P3 next year. Production of Intel's new Pentium 4 chip should be in full swing by then.
Codenamed the Willamette, the Pentium 4 will be Intel's core 32-bit architecture for the next 5-7 years and will take the company up to 2GHz and beyond. The Pentium 4 will be fully compatible with existing 32-bit applications and operating systems, and Intel will release chips later this year with initial speeds in the 1.4GHz range.
Let's take a quick look at the Pentium 4 processor.