New technology could rev up chip speeds
LIVERMORE, California (CNN) -- Smaller, cheaper, faster technology being unveiled Wednesday could pack more circuitry onto chips, the computer industry says. That would mean more power under the hoods of PCs and other devices.
The technology is called "extreme ultraviolet lithography," or EUVL. The first working prototype EUVL machine is being displayed at Sandia National Laboratories/California in Livermore.
The process is expected to lead to microprocessors that are far more powerful and have hundreds of times more capacity than chips now on the market.
Chip-maker Intel says such speed and computer brain power could mean real-time, universal language translation; sophisticated weather modeling that now takes the resources of supercomputers; less costly and more sophisticated medical research; and better atomic weapons testing without using actual bombs.
Search is on
This search for a new technique to etch circuits on the surface of chips has been under way since 1997. That's because the current means of etching is likely to reach some physical limits within the next few years.
Based on a principle called Moore's Law, the power of transistors doubles every 18 months. However, using current techniques, this theory will run out of steam in 2005, thereby forcing chip-makers to devise new technologies like EUVL.
If chip-makers do not discover new ways to shrink the necessary circuits, then it will eventually be physically impossible to continue boosting the power of chips.
Working in a vacuum
This new process is done in a vacuum, using light that's invisible, and a series of mirrors that work as lenses to project chip patterns onto wafers.
Sandia and two other U.S. government laboratories, Lawrence Livermore and Lawrence Berkeley, have been leading the way on EUVL research. Industry partners involved in the $250 million project are Intel, Motorola, AMD, Micron, Infineon Technologies and IBM.
What is yet to be determined is if the technology is feasible under real manufacturing conditions.
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