Smaller, Cooler and Smarter

While in the past it was all about getting the chips smaller and smaller, a new set of innovationsis all set to take chips to each and every digital product you can think of

Moore ‘s Law is no longer that important when it comes to chips. Multicore is in. Cooler chips are in. While PCs in the home and workplace along with laptops have already entered our everyday lives, in future PCs at the center of the digital home and powerful computers for handhelds could well be the next big thing

Cool and Quiet

Now most of the computers of the world still make a lot of noise and need internal fans to prevent overheating. Soon we’ll have chips that’ll result in quieter computers that need less power and are cooler.

One of the ways this will be done is using dual-core and multi-core technology. Says Donald MacDonald, head of Intel’s Digital Home division, “People want to have beautiful designs in their house. They want to be cool. You don’t want to have a big fan in the middle of your romantic movie. That won’t be there as multi-cores bring down the thermal envelope. Eventually you’ll see 2,4,16… and many many more cores going forward.”

Smaller will still count

Chips have been following the ‘smaller and smaller’ path ever since the beginning of microprocessing. Though of late chipmakers have taken a diversion on the multi-core route, the chip architecture will definitely get smaller. That’s mainly due to mobile devices, which are getting more powerful. Small chips on mobiles will spell lighter and better-looking mobiles. Recently Microsoft chief Bill Gates talked of a mobile connecting to a keyboard and TV to become a personal computer. While we are years away from that, you will still require massive computing power on a small chip for all of that.

More and more bits

We have come a long way from the Intel 4004, which was a 4-bit processor. From 4 to 8 to 16 to 32. But what’s the difference? Well a 64-bit processor will be faster and more powerful than a 32-bit one. (Of course, all your computer programs should have been written accordingly to take full advantage of that.) And it’s not just about speed. While servers are reaping the benefits of 64-bit computing, on the PC, it will give a big fillip to games and video.

Other innovations

And there are other things too. IBM has made a breakthrough in ‘deep ultraviolet optical lithography’ that will work below 30 nanometers. This at a time when Intel has just started making chips in the 65-nm architecture.

Then there was an idea to build a computer on the basis of quantum mechanics in the seventies. Such computers could be, theoretically, millions of times faster than the current day computers.  Also, on the anvil are clockless CPUs. The CPUs of today have a central clock and no component in the computer can run faster than this clock rate. If you go clockless, then this limitation is removed.

All these breakthroughs will help all manners of chips get into PCs, laptops, mobiles, MP3 players and other digital devices.

Chip power to the car

Freescale Country Manager Ganesh Guruswamy explains how smart a car can get. The number of components can be brought down so drastically that if someone opens the bonnet, he might ask, “Where’s the engine!”
One application is control of your car from a remote location. A remote station can monitor your car, read the status of the car and even diagnose the car. If the cars get locked accidentally and can’t be opened, then it’s possible to send a software dump and unlock the car. A breakdown can automatically call for workmen. Right now Onstar of America has this facility.

Reverse car sensors, Smart headlights for cars, Internet surfing on the go, sideway airbags are some of the other things that can be made easier. It is also possible to re-circulate wasted oil through the exhaust.

(This article appeared in the March 2006 edition of Living Digital magazine)

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