Carbon nanotubes allow microprocessor tech to grow further
IBM has developed a new microprocessor technology, building a computer chip on carbon-nanotubes.
The carbon-nanotube technology used for IBM’s chip had more than 10,000 transistors, but that is a drop in the ocean compared to the billions of transistors on today’s state-of-the-art silicon microprocessors. This marks an important step in proving the viability of the new technology.
There is a law in computing circles that governs the rate of growth in computing power, called Moore’s Law. It is the observation that over the history of computing hardware, the number of transistors on integrated circuits doubles approximately every 18 months.
Moore’s law is more of a prediction rather than a concrete law of physics, set out by Intel co-founder Gordon E. Moore. This said, it is close to approaching collision point with the laws of physics, as transistors approach the limit of how small they can get.
To solve this problem, IBM has put its research dollars into carbon nanotubes, a relatively new technology. Each tube is an atom thick sheet, rolled up in a cylinder.
Carbon nanotubes conduct electricity better than silicon, have the perfect shape to act as a transistor and, most importantly, and can scale down to a much smaller level.
However, as is always the case with new technology, they’re also much harder to work with at the moment. This is why no one’s pursued the technology until recently. The nanotubes have to be aligned perfectly and metallic impurities must be completely removed.
IBM has met those challenges, not only creating a 10,000-transistor-strong processor based on carbon nanotubes, but doing it with standard semiconductor techniques.
That means that, should today’s chipmakers end up switching to the technology, they wouldn’t have to create new tools and build new production facilities.
It also means that Moore’s Law gets a whole new lease of life in a new technology, propelling gadgets to newer and more powerful levels.