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Breaking the Noise Barrier: Enter the Phonon Computer


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In 2001, Pat Gelsinger, then the chief technology officer of Intel, made a striking prediction about the future of microchips. If current design trends continue, he said, microchips will be running at 30 gigahertz by the end of the decade. However, he added, at this speed they will be generating more heat per cubic centimetre than a nuclear reactor.

Sure enough, by 2003, Intel and other chip-makers had found that their plans for faster processors were running into trouble. For a chip to speed up, its transistors need to be shrunk, but smaller transistors must consume less power or they overheat. With chip-makers unable to keep to the reduced heat budget, the race for faster chips hit a wall (see diagram).

At best, today's microprocessors can operate at just 3GHz or so. To deliver a major performance boost, chip-makers have resorted to putting several processors, or cores, on the same chip. This keeps heat at manageable levels. Just.

From New Scientist
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