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The Billion-Dollar Race to Reinvent the Computer Chip

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Chipmakers are spending billions to develop new computing architectures and processor designs.


Chipmakers are spending billions of dollars to research and develop fundamentally new computing architectures and processor designs as the ability to build more and more transistors into a chip inevitably approaches its physical limit.

Hewlett-Packard, for example, has constructed a prototype computer, known as the Machine, that incorporates memristors, which enable the integration of storage and random-access memory functionality. This combination promises to significantly boost efficiency and performance, and mitigate the von Neumann bottleneck.

Meanwhile, IBM is exploring post-silicon computing, using graphene and carbon nanotubes as possible materials. Graphene transistors have been proven to upgrade computing speed exponentially in comparison to silicon devices, and at reasonable power density; however, they cannot reliably encode digital logic. Graphene sheets rolled into carbon nanotubes have silicon-like semiconducting properties, but their delicacy can be a disadvantage.

Another IBM project is the TrueNorth chip, a device with more than 5 billion transistors configured to model 1 million neurons and 256 million synaptic links, so it can emulate cortical columns in the mammalian brain with no bus bottlenecking the connection.

Some researchers believe the general-purpose model of computation will be succeeded by a specialized approach that can give cars, network routers, and other formerly "dumb" objects and systems the semiautonomous flexibility and context-specific proficiency of domestic animals.

From Scientific American
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