Researchers at Hewlett-Packard have devised a way to make a specialized type of computer
chip up to eight times denser using nanotechnology, in a development that could extend
the life of current chipmaking technologies, the company said on Tuesday.
The advance by HP could prove to be significant in an area of technology --
nanotechnology -- that has to date been long on promises and short on near-term,
Commercial applications of HP's research could potentially be used not too far in the
future in its own line of computer printers, the world's largest, in other consumer
electronics areas, and throughout the chip industry at large, HP said.
"A lot of this is advantages that can be harvested in the near term," said Stan
Williams, a senior fellow and director of quantum science research at HP's research
laboratory, known as HP Labs. "It's possible to have some real hardware you can start to
play with in about a year."
Historically the chip industry has advanced the power of semiconductors by shrinking the
size of transistors, which switch on and off and, in concert, form the computational
power of the chip.
A long-held axiom in the chip industry is that the computing power of chips doubles
every 18 months to 24 months, as production costs remain the same, an observation known
as Moore's Law. That increase in computing power has been largely due to shrinking the
What's different in HP's approach is that the company has devised a way using nanowires
to shrink the density of the chip without shrinking the transistor. This approach also
cuts power consumption, which is an increasing problem for the semiconductor industry as
computer chips perform ever more calculations.
HP used a certain type of computer chip, the field programmable gate array, or FPGA, to
achieve the eight-fold increase in chip density with its application of nanotechnology.
"We essentially provided a recipe to improve the circuitry of FPGA's by the equivalent
of three generations of Moore's law without having to shrink the transistor," Williams
The highly flexible FPGA chips are useful because their functions can be changed, and
are often used in the telecommunications and printer industries, among others, in
preproduction models as engineers finalize products. But because of their flexibility,
they are more expensive to make.
HP's research proposes a hybrid model that combines a traditional chipmaking technology
known as CMOS for fabricating the transistors with the use of nanowires to form the
wires and switches that connect to the logic-performing transistors.
HP's research will appear in a paper in the January 24 of the British journal