[LINK] FPGA chips (field programmable gate arrays)
stephen at melbpc.org.au
stephen at melbpc.org.au
Tue Jan 16 22:50:58 AEDT 2007
H.P. to Report an Advance in Adaptable Circuitry
By JOHN MARKOFF www.NYTimes.com
Published: January 16, 2007
SAN FRANCISCO, Jan. 15 Hewlett-Packard researchers have developed a
novel way to create flexible electronic circuits that could make it
routine by the end of the decade to modify and upgrade the circuitry in
computer-based consumer products even after they have been sold.
The technology grows out of an advance in nanocomputing, which involves
creating circuitry on a molecular scale and making it interact with
todays silicon wires and transistors.
A cellphone using the technology (FPGA chips) could be wirelessly
upgraded to take advantage of improved wireless network standards.
Another potential use would be in making ultracheap memory chips, and one
early application could be in the ink-jet cartridges which Hewlett-
Packard manufactures by the tens of millions.
The results of the research, which the company plans to report on Tuesday
and will be the subject of an article in the Jan. 24 issue of the British
journal Nanotechnology, are the clearest evidence yet that the once
highly speculative technology could be commercialized soon.
The H.P. researchers are among dozens of groups in the United States and
elsewhere who have been pursuing molecular computing for more than a
decade. Even as todays microelectronics industry continues to shrink the
size of the wires and switches that make up silicon chips, most engineers
believe that sometime in the next decade the microelectronics industry
will run up against fundamental limits.
That challenge has led a hunt for a new technology in which wires will be
no more than several molecules wide and switches will be composed of
single atoms. So far many laboratories have fabricated experimental
switches and wires on this scale, but little progress has been made on
the crucial technical challenge of how to move signals between the world
of molecular computing and todays microelectronic systems.
Now the researchers report that they have capitalized on a simple idea
proposed by researchers at Stony Brook University in New York. Last year
two Stony Brook scientists, Dmitri B. Strukov and Konstantin K. Likharev,
proposed a novel way to overlay a mesh of molecular-scale wires, or
nanowires, on top of a conventional chip circuit to move data between the
In 1985, with Dmitri Averin, while teaching the Moscow State University,
Likharev proposed a transistor based on the spin of a single electron.
Two years later researchers at Bell Laboratories developed a prototype of
such a device.
The Hewlett-Packard design would be a hybrid that contained transistors
made using conventional photolithography techniques with an accompanying
mesh of nanowire-connected switches.
Weve demonstrated a credible means for shrinking circuit density
without shrinking transistors, said Stan Williams, director of quantum
science research at H.P. Labs. The researchers have simulated the design
in the lab, and they are starting to build test chips in a laboratory in
Corvallis, Ore. They hope to have a working prototype within a year.
The Hewlett-Packard researchers, who are based in Palo Alto, Calif., have
extended the Stony Brook concept and applied it to a class of computer
chips known as field programmable gate arrays, or FPGA. FPGA chips are
widely used in the computer industry to design prototype circuits that
can later be manufactured less expensively.
To gain flexibility, the FPGA chips use large numbers of transistors that
can be reconfigured into an infinite array of different circuits.
Therefore the flexibility entails much higher cost, and the circuits are
not routinely used in final products, but rather in development systems.
The Stony Brook and H.P. design, however, would make it possible to build
FPGA circuits that are one-eighth to one-tenth the scale of todays
commercial chips. Moreover, they would have the advantage of consuming
far less power than conventional microchips because the molecular
computing switches are nonvolatile that is, they consume power only
when switching from one state to another.
Such a breakthrough would allow the flexible FPGA-style chips to be used
routinely in consumer products manufactured by the tens of millions. It
is this advance that could lead to the ability to modify or upgrade the
circuitry of standard consumer electronics products already in use.
Cheers all ..
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