In 1965, Intel Corp. co-founder Gordon Moore was preparing to give a speech about the growth in microprocessor performance when he made an interesting observation: Each new chip was roughly twice as fast as its predecessor--meaning computing power would rise exponentially over a relatively brief period of time. While the pace of advancement has slowed in recent years to a doubling once every 18 months, as compared to the doubling rate in 1965 of once every year, the next five to 10 years will see microprocessor speeds increase by huge increments, says Bob Ferrar, marketing operations manager for Intel's embedded microcomputer division. "In a few years, we'll certainly see chips in the gigahertz [1000 MHz] range at affordable prices," Ferrar predicts.
While the typical small-business computer user may wonder why he or she would need a PC that runs twice as fast as the new 500 MHz Pentium III chip, Ferrar believes gigahertz chips will truly enhance the user's computing experience. "They will really change what you can do within computing," says Ferrar. "They'll allow things like real-time voice and video capability. Voice recognition will also see major improvement." Improved voice recognition will make possible extremely small devices that eschew display screens, mice and keyboards in favor of an interface that relies solely on voice recognition and synthesis (meaning the computer can talk back) for interaction with the user.
Within a few years of their release, Ferrar predicts, gigahertz chips will trickle down into non-PC applications. Here they'll take the form of "embedded" chip technology in hand-held Personal Digital Assistants (PDAs), cellular phones and other consumer electronic devices, giving these products more horsepower as well as a vastly improved ability to handle graphics and audio applications.