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The rise of open hardware

07 Apr 2014  | Jessica MacNeil

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Slow development and rise of craftsmanship

If Moore's Law were to slow down so technology doubled every 24 or 36 months, someone trying to make a linear improvement with a single technology node would get four to eight years before they're scooped by Moore's Law, Huang estimated.

"The opportunity window went from two years out to eight years, six extra years of time to do things," said Huang. "This changes everything in terms of how you want to run business and how you innovate and how you approach things."

Slowing of Moore's Law

This graph shows how the slowing of Moore's Law allows more time for linear improvements. As a result, someone might be able to challenge the x86 architecture after years of dominance in the market.

"In the '90s and early 2000s, if you wanted to do a new architecture, it took a few years to develop the silicon. Then after you've taped out the silicon, you're going to have compilers, and the compilers take forever to write. And then you need some guys sitting around forward-porting code bases and those guys take a couple of years. So by the time you're through with it from the start to the point when you actually have the code running that you promised your customer, x86 got four to eight times faster," said Huang. "Now I think [ARM] is a pretty serious contender to x86. There's Cortex A15 cores pushing well north of 2GHz, with quad core implementations, and the 64bit version is right around the corner, targeting servers."

Another opportunity created by a slower Moore's Law is in optimisation. After years of focusing on software features and waiting on performance, there will be a better balance.

Post Moore, Huang said, "if I was to tell someone that I need to spend a year and a half hand-optimising a library to get 2x performance, that doesn't sound so stupid."

Though it has become more relevant, style and usability will matter more as devices won't be able to sell on pure spec improvement. People will also put a higher value on craftsmanship and design, and be more inclined to fix broken devices, because there won't always be an upgrade available.

This repair culture is already happening in China where consumers buy parts of old phones, schematics, PCB files and source code to repair and build new phones.

"This information ecosystem has grown up around what we would consider ancient technology, but there's still billions of people in this world who need this technology and they're buying this older technology because that's all that they can afford," said Huang.

While it has taken some time to grow because of the time and money hardware requires, open hardware is gaining ground as people become more interested in DIY and repair as the availability of new technology slows down.

"I think we're just at the point where open hardware might have an impact opportunity," said Huang.

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