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IBM Suggests Way to Create Energy-Efficient Super Computers

IBM Suggests Way to Create Energy-Efficient Super Computers

by Stephanie Faris on Monday, October 05 6:00

Moore s Law says the number of transistors in an integrated circuit will double every two years. This theory came from a 1965 paper written by Intel co-founder Gordon E. Moore and seemed to hold true through much of the past five decades. The law wasn t a hard and fast rule, since in the 60s and 70s the number of transistors seemed to double at a much faster rate than in more recent years.

However, as 2015 comes to a close, Moore s Law appears to be reaching its end. In 2012, Intel noted that the rate increase appeared to have slowed, with the CEO of Intel having noted that the rate is closer to two and a half years. Experts predict eventually technological limitations will bring the acceleration to an end, with the number of transistors remaining steady for the foreseeable future.

IBM s Solution

New research from IBM may be the key to moving Moore s Law forward. The key is in the use of carbon nanotubes instead of silicon to get past the physical limitations of existing chips. Electrons can pass through these nanotubes about ten times faster than through silicon, improving performance without using extra energy. One problem with this method, however, is that nanotubes generally create a mass of interwoven molecules. The team at IBM found a way to align the nanotubes in rows and deposit them on silicon wafers, creating a similar effect as that seen by a semiconductor.

To explain the difference, a senior physics and materials manager for IBM Research compared it to navigating through a parking garage. If a parking space is too small, a car s occupants would have difficulty exiting the car if there were vehicles parked too closely on either side of it. The garage owner could widen the spaces, but this would reduce the number of cars that could park inside each day. Another alternative would be to create sliding doors instead of doors that open. In a similar way, manufacturers would change the composition of the transistor so that it operates in a more compact manner.

The Benefit to IBM

The results, published in a journal called Science could keep Moore s Law going, especially when combined with additional research IBM is doing into smaller silicon transistors. The breakthrough could help give IBM a boost in the market. Since selling its PC business a decade ago, the company has shifted its attention to large-scale technologies like cloud computing and big data.

In simulations, IBM s researchers were able to create microprocessors that were optimized specifically to either improve performance or decrease power consumption. The team was able to increase a computer s speed by as much as seven times their previous performance merely through the use of carbon nanotube transistors instead of silicon-based transistors. The power savings achieved were similar in size.

However, there may be a brief delay in Moore s Law while the technology remains under development. IBM s team says it will likely be at least 2020 before the industry sees a switch from silicon transistors. These new transistors will help make computers run faster and use less electricity than the ones in use today.

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