Tech Monday: 3D Computer Chips

Ok, I’m going to try and keep up with a weekly thing based on one of my core passions:  technology.  I read a lot of techy stuff on the Internet that truly is fascinating and exciting because we’re living the future we dreamed about 25 years ago.  Anyway, here we go.

3D Computer Chips Could Be 1,000 Times Faster Than Existing Ones

Some sort of non-technical background

The CPU (Central Processing Unit) in your fancy thinking box has been of the same fundamental design for almost 50 years now.  The only difference between versions has been smaller components and improved manufacturing techniques of the transistors that make up the core of a CPU.  Murphy’s Law states that “Every 18-24 months technology will get smaller and faster” or something to that affect.  We’re now at a point where that law won’t hold true unless there is development into a new methodology of design and manufacturing.  Below is a picture of current 2D CPU technology, the yellow rectangle indicates the actual footprint of the CPU.  Chip size is dictated by the components required to receive/transmit data from the computer board its connected to.  Intel just released their 5th generation chips by the way 🙂

Intel 4th Gen Core i7

Intel 4th Gen Core i7

Attempt at a non-technical description of 3D CPU’s

A 3D CPU relies on what is called a carbon nano-tube [CNT].  These CNT’s will conduct electricity in the same manner as a standard copper connection making them an ideal application in this case.  A standard CPU, being silicon based, requires 1,800 degrees Fahrenheit to manufacture properly limiting the materials that can be used in its construction.  A CNT processor does not require nearly as much heat allowing for additional materials to be utilized during construction.  In essence manufacturers are able to stack layers, like floors in a building, that connected via small wires.  You can think of those wires as stairwells or elevators in a building.

The ability of the CNT to process data internally without having to reach out to external storage devices as often provides for a massive increase in speed with a significant decrease in power consumption.  As you add more power to the CNT to get closer to that of a standard CPU, speed increases of over 1,000 times are witnessed.  CNT technology is still in early development and prototype units are still large and bulky and inefficient.  As the hurdles associated with manufacturing are solved, the theory is that speeds unattainable with current technology will be realized.  Below is a theoretical design of a possible CNT CPU.

A three-story CNT based CPU

A three-story CNT based CPU

What it means for us

The applications of a CNT 3D CPU are endless.  I can see a CNT designed to match the current processing power of a Core i7 that is only 20% of the size.  A reduction in the CPU leaves more room for a larger battery or a thinner device.  Smartphones are largely size locked due to their screen size, however there is nothing stopping someone from designing a metal chassis for a new phone that is half the thickness of an iPhone 6 (6.9mm or 0.27inches).

A desktop computer with a solid state hard drive could have a boot time of 1-2 seconds from power button push to usability.  That computer could render graphics or crunch large data sets (AutoCAD, graphic design, etc.) in 25% of the time that is currently needed.  It could be packed with environmental sensors that report air quality, humidity, temperature, light levels, operating conditions, etc. all natively without affecting performance for the rest of the system.

The truth here is that we are only limited by our imagination to invent applications of this new technology.  Just watch out for signs that SkyNet is becoming self aware and preparing to take over our world with machines!