These Molecule-sized Wires Could Stop the Computer Industry From Hitting a Brick Wall

The DNA-sized nanowires in the center of this magnified chip could keep the electronics industry from burning out.

The DNA-sized nanowires in the center of this magnified chip could keep the electronics industry from burning out. MITRE

The nanoFSM saves power, and creates less heat, through a combination of size and design.

In case you missed it, the end of the age of ever-faster computers is nigh. In his speech (pdf) at last summer’s Hot Chip conference, Bob Colwell, Intel’s former chief architect, said Moore’s law—the prediction that computer power doubles every 18-24 months, which has held largely true since Intel co-founder Gordon Moore made it in 1965—will cease to hold by 2020.

Colwell’s prognosis is dire, but not everyone is accepting it. On Jan. 23, a joint team from Harvard and the non-profit defense contractor MITRE challenged the repeal of Moore’s law with an ultra-dense, nano-scale processor that could add time to computing’s Doomsday Clock.

The sheer number of circuits that can fit on a processor is called the transistor count. Generally speaking, Moore’s law states that processors will double their transistor count every couple of years. A transistor is basically a switch that both stores and processes data; the more of them a computer contains, the more memory and power it has.

The problem is, processors are built with silicon. As silicon transistors get more and more dense, they need more power and better cooling. In other words, it’s not that we can’t design faster chips, it’s just too expensive and difficult to keep them running.

The Harvard/MITRE team’s chip—called the nanoFSM—saves power, and creates less heat, through a combination of size and design. Not only do the tiny wire transistors need less energy, but they are “nonvolatile.” This means that they don’t need a constant electrical current to remember how they’ve been programmed, unlike regular transistors. The nanowires are so-named because they are measured on the nanometer scale, along with DNA and viruses. Where an Intel Core i7—a chip at the heart of high-end personal computers—is roughly the size of a small coin, the prototype nanoFSM would be a speck of dust on the coin’s face (though it’s also less powerful).

Computers can’t keep getting faster forever, but it’s no surprise that the industry wants to stave off the end of the Moore’s law era as long as it can. Without the constant doubling of computer power we wouldn’t have iPads, IBM’s Watson supercomputer, or the internet. Engineers started worrying about the end of Moore’s law around 2005, when the ever-smaller chips stopped being able to outrun the laws of physics that govern heat dissipation.

Nanowires aren’t new, but this is the first time they’ve been made into transistors that can do math and remember information. This technically makes the nanoFSM a computer, but barely so. Currently, the chip is little more sophisticated than all but the earliest digital processors. If it’s going to save Moore’s law, nanoFSM’s creators still need to prove that they can scale this technology up to handle heavier workloads without succumbing to the same problems that threaten the law now—let alone completely new ones.

Reprinted with permission from Quartz. The original story can be found here

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.