With silicon chips being fabricated in ever smaller sizes to lower costs, boost performance and lower power consumption, some scientists think that the limits are fast approaching.
Aside from the mounting technical hurdles of ever-smaller transistors, one potential pitfall is that the tiny transistors packed into such a large space simply require too much power.
"Simply taking old processor architectures and scaling them won’t work anymore," Nvidia chief scientist William J. Dally told the New York Times. "Real innovation is required to make progress today," he added.
A group of researchers published a paper (pdf) at the International Symposium on Computer Architecture which said that the limits of high performance high density silicon chips make arriver sooner than many believe.
"The study shows that regardless of chip organization and topology, multicore scaling is power limited to a degree not widely appreciated by the computing community," say the researchers in the report abstract.
In the paper the researchers simulated the ever worsening electricity conditions and concluded that by 2024, computer speed would only increase 7.9-fold.
To be fair, the sorts of chips being discussed are very high clock rate high performance silicon, while other categories such as a lower clockspeed, lower power chips, look set to benefit from ever smaller manufacturing for some time yet.
Other scientists such as Nvidia’s Dr Dally believe that there’s plenty of room for innovation to increase efficiency.