Amazing new processors technologies have debuted this year. Dual cores and 64-bit systems promise a great increase in computational power, but they aren’t even be the best revolution of the horizon. Researchers and chipmakers are recognizing the potential for stacking layers of processors together, and Intel is already announcing plans.
While Moore’s Law says that processing power will double every year and a half, AMD and Intel may run into trouble meeting these expectations. Part of the problem with modern microprocessors is that they have always been built in two dimensions. For decades, the traditional design has involved a planar circuit stuck between layers of metal. To make these 2D chips faster, chip makers have been crushing the size of processors.
Smaller chips mean shorter connects between transistors, which in turn mean that information travels a fraction of a second faster between them. New AMD chips are 90nm, though only a couple years ago the AMD XP Thoroughbreds were 130nm. AMD is now transitioning to 65nm chips. By 2010, estimates are that chip makers will be building 45nm chips with skyrocketing costs.
Besides exponentially rising costs, one of the troubles with decreasing the size of processors is that the process cannot continue forever. The shrinking space between paths of electricity means less insulation between them. Chip designers have to be careful about interference between these paths, which could cause instabilities. Another notable problem with the ever-shrinking processors is heat. The tighter and tighter circuits produce more thermal energy, because the thinner wires have a higher resistance. So at a certain point, the resistance and heat produced by the circuit could negate the gains of shrinking the chip.
Shrinking things more and more can only work for so long before there is too difficult to overcome “dirty” data and heat issues. This may account for the need to develop 64-bit and dual core technologies. Chipmakers need to find more ways to make their products increasingly useful. 3D wafers processors may just be the next step.
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