IBM’s researchers have made another breakthrough in their development of carbon nanotube technology, according to USENET newsgroups, packing more than 10,000 working transistors made of the substance onto a single chip.
The ability to fashion computer chips out of carbon nanotubes will allow the trend of ever smaller, faster and more powerful chips to keep apace for several more decades, according to researchers.
Traditionally, transistors — the switches on a chip that carry digital information — are made of silicon. Today’s silicon transistors are approaching the atomic scale — a physical limit — as their speed and performance gains are stalling due to the nature of the material.
Intel’s latest processors are built using silicon transistors with 22-nanometer technology, and simpler NAND flash storage chips have been demonstrated using “1X” technology somewhere below that, but modern manufacturing is nearing its physical limits. Intel has predicted it will produce chips using sizes in the single digits within the next decade.
For years now, technology has advanced very much in line with Moore’s Law, which states that computing power doubles about every two years. At the core of Moore’s Law is the number of transistors that can be placed on an integrated circuit, as this ultimately determines computing power.
Gordon Moore described this trend, which become known as Moore’s Law, back in 1965. So it’s no surprise that, nearly 50 years hence, many have been predicting an end, or at least a slowing down, in the shrinking of the transistor. The slowing was expected to start showing up somewhere around 2015-2020. The International Technology Roadmap for Semiconductors even predicted Moore’s Law to start slowing by the end of 2013.
Carbon nanotubes are both smaller and faster than the current materials used in chipmaking, and this breakthrough would allow manufacturers to mass-produce the miniscule structures. Advances in chip density and clock speed have slowed recently, making this development crucial if manufacturers hope to keep pace with Moore’s law. However, this new technology may not be available in consumer products for at least another decade, as researchers still need to find a way to further refine the carbon nanotube material in order to reach its full potential as a semiconductor.
Once the new technology has been fully perfected for use by the end of this decade, scientists anticipate future processors will feature much higher clock speeds in addition to even more transistors being crammed onto a single wafer.