Gordon Moore - His contribution to the birth of an industry

Introduction - An overview of this report

In the beginning - How Gordon Moore helped found one of the most successful hi-tech companies ever.

Intel - How Intel has influenced the development of the PC industry

Conclusions - summary of the main points and general conclusions

References - The websites and books referred to in this report

Additional information

My report plan


Introduction

Gordon Moore
Gordon Moore
[Source: Courtesy of Intel.]

This report is about Gordon Moore. It is also about the birth and incredible growth of the PC industry. Gordon Moore and Bob Noyce founded Intel in 1968 after leaving Fairchild Semiconductors. They bought with them a wealth of experience in semiconductor production. Their reputation helped them to raise the finance for the start-up in an afternoon. Moore had been head of research at Fairchild and his knowledge of the processes involved, allied to his ability to pick the right people for the job enabled Intel to establish their lead very quickly.

The company started out by producing memory chips, for which there was a big market. They also saw that there would be a market for microprocessors, particularly embedded in everyday electrical appliances. Moore acknowledges that he did not necessarily see their potential for use in personal computers. The personal computer, as we know it, had, in fact, not yet been invented. Intels' early advertising was aimed at engineers who were encouraged to come up with new ideas for this new device. A classic case of a new invention looking for an application.

Gordon Moore is probably most famous for 'Moore's Law', which came about from an article written in 1965, which included an extrapolation that showed that the power of a microprocessor would double every year (not 18 months, as sometimes reported - Scientific American , October 1997).

In the beginning

Early Years

Gordon Moore was born January 3 1929 in San Fransisco, California. He earned a BS in Chemistry from the University of California at Berkeley and a Ph.D in Chemistry and Physics from the California Institute of Technology. (Intel.com\executive bios). His first job was at the Applied Physics Laboratory of John Hopkins University in Maryland, near Washington DC, in 1953. Later he went to Shockley Semiconductor Laboratory to work for the legendary Nobel prizewinner, Dr William Shockley. He was one of the 'traitorous eight' who left Shockley to start Fairchild Semiconductors. Another one of the eight was Bob Noyce, who eventually became General Manager of Fairchild, and Gordon Moore became head of R&D. Bob Noyce and Jack Kilby of Texas Instruments are often credited as co-inventors of the integrated circuit but much of the development was done at Fairchild, under the leadership of Gordon Moore. There is a very good account of these early years in an interview with Rob Walker for a series known as Silicon Genesis.

Problem Solving

A modest man, Moore tends to play down his role in this, as he is very much a team player who is renowned for gathering the best people around him. Perhaps this is one of his greatest strengths. It could also be said that his other great strength was his ability to analyse and immediately solve a problem that others had worked on for months. 'He had an uncanny knack for solving technical problems. If you took a problem that looked as though it had five or six routes to a possible solution, most engineers would waste a lot of time exploring and then ruling out the ones that didn't work. Not Moore: for some reason that neither he nor anyone else could explain, the one avenue of enquiry that he chose would often be the one that yielded the best results.('Inside Intel' - Tim Jackson)

Moving On

After a while it became clear to Moore and Noyce that they would not be able to develop their ideas further whilst at Fairchild. Moore said in 1995 that 'One thing that was frustrating to me at Fairchild was the lab was being very productive but we were having an increasingly difficult time to get the new things we did into production. The production people were busy but also I found that the more technically competent the production people became, the more difficult it was to transfer something new to them. (Silicon Genesis interview). So, in 1968, Moore and Noyce left Fairchild to set up Intel.

Raising Capital

They were very different from most of the other entrepreneurs who were starting a business at that time. They were middle aged and respectable. They were prosperous and 'known already as leading figures in their industry'. (from 'Inside Intel' by Tim Jackson). They raised the $2.3m funding for the start up from the venture capitalist Arthur Rock in an afternoon with what may have been the most minimalist business plan in history.

Intel

Start up

The start up was conducted in a very low key manner and very much in the style that Moore wanted. He was a man who liked to be vague on technical details in public. He would not have been keen to give away research that his team had worked so hard on. Although Moore was vague when questioned about the plans of the newly formed company both he and Noyce knew from the start that they would be building memory devices ('Inside Intel' - P.11). They planned to make complex integrated circuits but reckoned that because they tended to be quite unique designs used for specific purposes, such as a particular kind of computer, it would be better to concentrate on semiconductor memory which could be used for all kinds of different digital applications.

Busicom

Electronic calculators had become big business by this time. Intel were a little late into this market and most calculator companies were tied up with other semiconductor producers. However, there was a Japanese company called Busicom which was looking for a semiconductor supplier. They needed a chipset consisting of 13 chips, which they had already done the design work for. This would have been too big a project for Intel to take on, as they were already very committed with their memory circuit work. A brilliant young engineer by the name of Ted Hoff came up with the idea of a general-purpose computer architecture, with a new microprocessor at the heart of it, that would be able to do all the calculator work. The innovation lay in the fact that he recognised that the chip could be produced with about the same complexity as the MOS memory circuits they were already producing. This meant that the chipset could be reduced to a more manageable four chips. The industry at that time thought that such a general-purpose chip would take a much more complex design. Moore backed Hoffs' idea and they sold the concept to a sceptical Busicom. They advanced Intel $100,000 to build their new chipset. However other work pressures meant that they did not start work on the chipset until much later than planned. In the meantime Busicom had found that the calculator business had got a lot more competitive and they wanted a lower price for the chips. Intel negotiated a deal whereby Busicom got $60,000 of their development money back and Intel got the right to sell the design to other customers.

Conclusions

Microprocessors

When Intel got the rights to sell the Busicom design to other customers, it was the point where the road to dominating the market began. Gordon Moore was instrumental in encouraging the research into this particular microprocessor. This led to the birth of the PC and to the huge presence of microprocessors in everyday life, which are found in almost every conceivable electronic device. This never ending demand for microprocessors has contributed to Intels' continued dominance of the market.

Moore's Law

This famous extrapolation became the benchmark for both the microprocessor and the PC industry. To quote Moore, 'In one repect it has become a self-fulfilling prophecy. People know that they have to stay on that curve to remain competitive, so they put the effort in to make it happen. (Scientific American - Part 2). Moore's Law has provided an impetus for over 36 years.

Moore's personality

We have seen Tim Jacksons' view ('Inside Intel') that Moore was a brilliant analyst able to cut to the core of any problem. I believe that this was very significant in contributing to the success of Intel. He is very self-effacing when interviewed, always willing to point out where he got it wrong. For example, in an interview with Jill Wolfson and Teo Cervantes for the series 'The Revolutionaries', Moore points out how he completely missed out on an opportunity for Intel to make a home computer at an early stage and also tells the story of Intel being the 'first company in the digital watch business, in fact I still wear my $15 million watch today. (He pulls up his sleeve and reveals an ordinary looking watch). That's my $15 million watch, all the gold plate has worn off of it and the like. That's what it cost Intel to get into the watch business and then to get out.' I also believe that his calm attitude, quiet confidence and aura of respectibility helped enormously when attempting to attract finance for the Intel start-up. As Tim Jackson recounts, his 'temper was a model of equanimity'. ('Inside Intel'). I also believe that these same qualities helped attract the right staff to Intel, in the early days.

References

The companies and organisations mentioned in this report can be found at:

Intel

Busicom

Fairchild Semiconductors

Texas Instruments

Scientific American

Books:

Jackson,T. (1997) Inside Intel. Harper and Collins

Cringely,R. (1992) Accidental Empires. Penguin

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