Our world of amazingly tiny electronics is about to get even tinier. After a decade of research, IBM says it will bring carbon nanotube transistors to market by 2020. The company is now readying the technology to take over from silicon transistors, and that opens up a lot of exciting doors.
Currently, Intel’s smallest silicon transistor measures 14 nanometers. That’s very small. It is not, however, small enough for innovation to keep up with Moore’s Law which says that the number of transistors that fit on a circuit should double every year (or so). Moore’s Law is how IBM pegged the commercialization of carbon nanotube transistors to 2020, when the company says chips made out of nanotubes as small as five nanometers will be available. “That’s where silicon scaling runs out of steam, and there really is nothing else,” says Wilfried Haensch, the head of IBM’s carbon nanotube program.
It’s not just about size though. Chips made out of carbon nanotubes run up to three times faster than silicon chips and use a third of the power. The technology is already very real. IBM’s been building transistors out of carbon nanotubes for a few years now, but once they hit the mainstream market, it will be a thrill to see what kinds of innovation the technology enables. Meanwhile, we already know that it’s possible to build a whole computer using carbon nanotubes, so the future is not too far afoot. [MIT Tech Review]