Will Claney, Tech Talk

It’s now time to take ­computing to the Max

Will Claney, Tech TalkComputing technology is beginning to reach a point where silicon chips will no longer be able to shrink. That means they will reach their theoretical speed limits in the next few generations.

Faster computer speeds depend on shrinking the size of chips. So how do we shrink chips further and continue to develop faster chips?

In the chip business, speed and functionality depend on making shorter and smaller connections. These connections, or traces, are made from a process of lithography.

Simplistically, design a chip, take a picture of it, shrink it, then superimpose it to silicon.

Computers go fast because they switch ones and zeros, known as binary, faster when their traces are smaller. But what happens when we reach a physical size limit?

Silicon can only shrink their trace so far, currently 5 nanometers. One nanometer is one billionth of a meter. For scale, a sheet of paper is 100,000 nanometers.

“A strand of human DNA is 2.5 nanometers in diameter on a comparative scale. If the diameter of a marble was one nanometer, then the diameter of the Earth would be about one meter,” according to Bing.

Current silicon technology is only capable of two states of matter, either positive or negative – thereby defining the condition known as binary. That is to say a slice of binary silicon is either on or off. Never both.

A third state of matter

What if there were a way to introduce a third state of matter: on+off. This third state, called tertiary, extends the computing power exponentially, thus elevating the need to make things smaller. The thinking is to make the chips do more in the same space. Tertiary adds a third state of matter that translates to more power and speed for the next generation of computers.

This is “propeller-head” stuff, but fun to think about.

Say hello to Max Planck, the German theoretical physics who originated quantum theory (1918). Quantum computing is the next generation in the quest to increase the speed of a computer by adding more states or conditions other than just on or off. According to Bing, a quantum computer “makes use of the quantum states of subatomic particles to store information.”

That means the current physical limitations of silicon slices become moot. We move from the physical state of matter to the quantum state of qubits.

Qubits represent atoms, ions, photons or electrons and their respective control devices that are working together to act as computer memory and a processor. Because a quantum computer can contain these multiple states simultaneously, it has the potential to be millions of times more powerful than today’s most powerful supercomputers, reports the How Stuff Works website.

When you are ready for a quantum computer, call me. I have access to a desktop. Price of a SpinQ: $4,950.

Will Claney
Will Claney

William Claney is an independent tech writer and former owner of Computers USA in the Clayton Station. Email questions or comments to willclaney@gmail.com.