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COMPUTER PROCESSORS

Magnetic Microchips Provide New Spin on Processors
By: Terri Wells
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    2005-12-19

    Table of Contents:
  • Magnetic Microchips Provide New Spin on Processors
  • How it Works
  • Potential for the Technology
  • What’s the Down Side?

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    Magnetic Microchips Provide New Spin on Processors - Potential for the Technology


    (Page 3 of 4 )

    Dr. Cowburn figures that a magnetic chip can hold 250 billion (yes, billion with a b) transistors in the same amount of space that today’s chips hold less than 250 million, a level of complexity that boggles the mind. Even better, those chips won’t need to be etched on silicon. They will be made out of ferromagnetic materials. Whether iron, which is magnetic but prone to rust, would be used as the substrate of choice is open to debate (though it would certainly put a new spin on the traditional phrase “big iron” to refer to mainframe computers).

    The fact that the chips would require no silicon and no multi-layer processing means that they could be manufactured at very low cost. Also, since you can pack so many more transistors into the same amount of space, chips could be much smaller and still outperform whatever they’re replacing. This offers exciting possibilities for portable computing.

    Since these chips don’t depend on electricity to hold their ones and zeroes, they are more stable than their electronic counterparts. When the power is switched off, they don’t lose their memory. This is useful not only for portable devices, but for areas where power might be less reliable than users would like – which could be anywhere from developing countries to right here in the U.S. during periods of high power usage, forced rolling blackouts, and/or nasty weather.

    Speaking of electricity, these chips offer the potential for some respectable savings in energy. Remember, they don’t use electricity to hold their ones and zeroes. The dissipation of power from a magnetic chip is many times less than from its traditional electronic cousin. You all know what energy dissipation can do, not just to your electric bill, but to your system; that’s why you have fans and heat sinks and even some daring overclockers trying to run a watercooling set up on liquid nitrogen. Imagine a chip that is more powerful than anything any manufacturer can currently offer – that also doesn’t need anything to keep it cool.

    Dr. Cowburn explains the reasons behind this energy wonder: “Electronic chips use up energy during operation, whereas a magnet does not. That means computers developed using magnetic microchips will need much less power to work. The days of carrying around heavy batteries for laptop computers and mobile phones are numbered!”

    These new kinds of computer chips – or, more precisely, the science that makes them possible -- could also have a huge effect on digital storage. Imagine toting around a smart phone with a storage capacity of 100 GB. Again, quoting Dr. Cowburn: “The new video mobile phones are very popular, but they desperately need more memory so that people can take longer videos and store them. This technology has the potential to transform mobiles into fully functioning video cameras, in addition to a range of other applications.”

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