IBM researchers recently revealed a breakthrough in chip-making technology that could become a pillar in improving the processing powers of next generation processors. They were able to pattern an array of carbon nanotubes without eliminating the use of silicon. With this technology, they were able to come up a hybrid chip that has 10,000 transistors working together.
While technology has evolved considerably since the first electronic computer was built, the evolution of processors slowed down in the past decade and there have been uncertainties about their future. Exotic materials such as carbon nanotubes have always been thought to be silicon’s best replacement but researchers have found out that it is possible to combine these two materials to build even better processors more powerful that the ones available in the market today.
The use of silicon in microprocessors seemed to have reached its highest peak as far as innovation is concerned. Consequently, chip makers have to double the number of transistors but as the number grows, the size of the chips does, too. But in a world where people are in the process of transitioning from bigger computing devices to handhelds, size does matter a lot. To address this issue, chip makers had to build processors that function parallel to each other.
Today, even smartphones come with two or even four processors being referred to as “cores.” It may sound cool to have a quad-core smartphone or tablet nowadays but it is actually a sign that processing innovation is currently on a stall. IBM researchers believe that the nanotube breakthrough is a way to go forward as far as processing technology is concerned.
The carbon nanotubes do not only offer the possibility of building smaller transistors but they are believed to turn on and off more quickly than silicon. It means that it will not only offer better performance (measured in “clock speed”), it also offers faster processing time than silicon. While it sounds pretty amazing that scientists have already found a way to build processors better than the ones we know today, it may not be realized just yet. Perhaps, we have to wait for, at least, a decade before we can experience the performance of the first carbon nanotube chip in our hands.
[source: NY Times blog]