Researchers from a number of American universities - including Stanford, Carnegie Melon, Berkeley and the University of California - have invented a new material that could soon be replacing silicon in computer chips. This could lead to chips that are 1,000 times more efficient than those available today.
The silicon chips that power today's electronics are not nearly as efficient because of the way in which they are arranged. They are spread out from one another to reduce heat which means that the data they transmit has to travel over longer distances, leading to wasted energy. Silicon chips must be stacked horizontally because they can reach a temperature of 1,00 degrees centigrade during their fabrication which would damage the layers below them if they were stacked vertically.
The Nano-Engineered Computing Systems Technology project (N3XT) has opted to replace silicon with carbon nanotube transistors which allows the new chips to be fabricated at much lower temperatures. As a result of this, it is possible for these chips to be layered and stacked vertically resembling a skyscraper. This will also make it easier for data to move more efficiently since it has to travel over a much shorter distance.
Samsung implemented a similar approach when it created the world's largest hard drive with 16 terabytes of storage back in August. This fabrication method is much more expensive when compared to how silicon chips are made.
Currently N3XT has built a prototype with four layers to test the ideas. The team has also simulated its design method for a new paper which will be available later this month in a special issue based around Rebooting Computing in the IEEE's computer magazine.