- SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters)
- Hewlett-Packard Co. and University of California scientists have patented
a process they said on Wednesday would eventually help turn out powerful
computers which fit on the head of a pin with room to spare.
- Scientists need to shrink computers to make them more
powerful, but the technology of putting circuits on silicon, the basis
of current computer chips, is reaching the natural limits of the wafers
to hold circuits, turning up the pressure for a breakthrough.
- Computer makers like International Business Machines
Corp. and Hewlett-Packard -- with its University of California Los Angeles
(UCLA) partners -- are racing to develop nanotechnology, which is based
on parts a few atoms wide.
- HP said it was ahead on designing a complex nanochip
as well as the parts and could be making nano-computers smaller than a
bacterium, able to be weaved into a shirt, in the next decade or so.
- The new patent was key to a play to commercialize nano-chips
by building factories to produce them, and lab experiments had proved the
concept -- although they used components much bigger than the nanowires
a few atoms wide.
- The patent announced on Wednesday covers a process to
pack a number of different functions into a single nanochip by dividing
the chip into different zones where independent calculations could take
- Previously, HP had figured out how to use chemical processes
to make grids of nanowires a few atoms thick and to place molecules at
the intersections of the wires.
- They also figured out how to manipulate the molecules
to block or let electricity pass through, which is the basic operation
at the heart of a microprocessor and proved that the nanochip could work.
- The newly-patented process could break the huge grid
into smaller zones by using electrical charges to make ``cuts'' in the
nanowires. HP compares it to breaking up a city street grid into neighborhoods
with alleys and cul de sacs that have operate independently but are linked
by major thoroughfares.
- The performance improves because a single chip can do
a number of things. ``It is not really a question of speed -- you are always
going real fast -- but a question of how many things you can pack together,''
said HP scientist Phil Kuekes, a computer architect on the team which was
awarded the patent.
- EACH NANOCHIP IS UNIQUE
- It is relatively cheap and easy to make big batches of
nano-chips, but the tiny grids tend to have imperfections. HP's solution
is to discover the defects of a chip after it is made and then, using the
nano-cutting technology, to customize them.
- ``We see a future where the chips will come out and no
two chips will be identical. Each one will be customized for a particular
function,'' said HP's Stanley Williams, the chemist in the group. UCLA
professor James Heath was the third member of the team.
- Current computer chip design software could be used to
design chips and adapt for their imperfections, and manufacturing costs
would be dramatically cut, HP said.
- That cost savings would be achieved even after an investment
in supercomputers needed to test the chips and then design and program
them, HP said.
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