The first computer was as big as a room. Now they're the size of a full stop . . . and getting even smaller - News - The Independent

The first computer was as big as a room. Now they're the size of a full stop . . . and getting even smaller

New chip is the equivalent of 20 of today's PCs, writes Charles Arthur

Videophones for the price of a standard telephone, wristphones, and computers that recognise faces are among the likely products of a leap forward in microchip technology announced yesterday.

The advance unveiled by the US semiconductor giant Texas Instruments (TI) would cram the equivalent of 20 of today's PCs onto a single chip, which could be on sale within three years. The result would be affordable products with enormous amounts of computing power.

The announcement is the continuation of a 30-year race to pack more and more electronics into ever-tinier spaces. For example, the computing elements of the wartime computer, the Colossus, right, would today take up the same space as the full stop at the end of this sentence.

"This new technology will make it practical to use calculations which today are just theoretical, because they would take too long with existing machines," said John Carter, of the University of Southampton's Electronics and Computer Science department. "Systems that need to identify faces have to do it in seconds, not minutes or hours."

Similarly, sending video signals down phone lines requires immense computing power at each end of the link. This has kept prices of videophones around pounds 500 for some time. More powerful computer chips would make videophones both efficient and affordable.

TI will not have a monopoly, though: Japanese and American companies are hot on its trail. Hitachi, NEC, IBM and Intel - which makes the best- selling Pentium chip for PCs - are all within sight of the same target.

By boosting the power of a single chip while keeping it at the same price, the new technology will cut the cost of products, since the most expensive element of making modern computers is assembling the different components.

TI's "TImeline" design reduces the width of the silicon "wires" in the chip from today's common value of around 0.6 microns (millionths of a metre) - 200 times thinner than a piece of paper - to 0.18 microns. This dramatic reduction in size means that many more transistors, the building blocks of a computer, can be squeezed into the same area.

Using this process, TI intends to build a chip containing 125 million transistors - a huge step up from the Pentium Pro, commonly found in PCs today, which contains 5.5 million transistors. Intel presently makes chips using 0.35 micron designs. The more transistors a single chip contains, the more processes it can carry out at once.

The latest announcement by TI is the demonstration of a "law" first proposed more than 30 years ago by an American engineer, Gordon Moore.

In 1965, Moore was preparing a speech about the improvement in performance of computers' memory chips, which were then rudimentary. He noticed that each successive generation of chips contained twice as many transistors as its predecessor, and was launched 18 months or so later. He reasoned that this trend could continue almost as long as required.

Moore, now 69, went on to be co-founder of Intel, now the biggest manufacturer of semiconductor chips in the world. The company's first chip, the 4004 (used in early calculators) contained 2,300 transistors. Since then, the power of individual chips has increased almost a millionfold.

However, the inexorable progress towards smaller chips may be nearing its limit. Physicists reckon that below 0.1 micron - a size which would be reached around 2005 - significant problems could arise from the unusual phenomena known as "quantum effects", in which individual electrons can tunnel through solid barriers.

This would mean that calculations could become unreliable.

Clive Hoggar, a semiconductor product manager for TI, said: "The technology has a habit of moving immovable barriers.

''Somehow, we always get past these problems."

News
John Travolta is a qualified airline captain and employed the pilot with his company, Alto
people'That was the lowest I’d ever felt'
Life and Style
healthIt isn’t greasy. It doesn’t smell. And moreover, it costs nothing
News
peopleThe report and photo dedicated to the actress’s decolletage has, unsurprisingly, provoked anger
Property
Home body: Badger stays safe indoors
property
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
The programme sees four specialists creating what they believe are three perfect couples, based on scientific matchmaking. The couples will not meet until they walk down the aisle together
tvUK wedding show jilted
Arts and Entertainment
US pop diva Jennifer Lopez sang “Happy Birthday” to Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow, president of Turkmenistan
musicCorporate gigs become key source of musicians' income
Arts and Entertainment
You've been framed: Henri Matisse's colourful cut-outs at Tate Modern
artWhat makes a smash-hit art show
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
filmsDaniel Craig believed to be donning skis as 007 for first time
Sport
Mikel Arteta pictured during Borussia Dortmund vs Arsenal
champions league
Voices
Yes supporters gather outside the Usher Hall, which is hosting a Night for Scotland in Edinburgh
voicesBen Judah: Is there a third option for England and Scotland that keeps everyone happy?
Arts and Entertainment
Pulp-fiction lover: Jarvis Cocker
booksJarvis Cocker on Richard Brautigan
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke and Pharell Williams in the video of the song, which has been accused of justifying rape
music...and he had 'almost no part' in writing it
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Senior QA Engineer - Agile, SCRUM

£35000 - £50000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior QA Engineer (Agil...

Marketing Executive - West Midlands - £28,000

£26000 - £28000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Digital Marketing Executive (SEO, PP...

Retail Business Analyst

£40000 - £50000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our retail client ...

Senior C++ Developer

£400 - £450 Per Annum possibly more for the right candidate: Clearwater People...

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week