Of Near Threshold Voltage and Atomic Transistors

February 20, 2012 - 01:53 PM |

The eyes of the world are on the 22nm Ivy Bridge chip that Intel has slowly been giving us details of but there is also something interesting happening at 32nm with the world's most repurposed Intel CPU.  Once again the old Pentium core has been dusted off and modified to showcase new Intel technology, in this case Near Threshold Voltage operations.  In this case the Threshold refers to the amount of power needed to flip a bit on a processor, what you would be used to seeing as VCC and is the reason those dang chips get so toasty.   Much in the way that SpeedStep and other energy savings technologies reduce the operating frequency of an underloaded processor, Intel has tied the amount of voltage to the frequency and lowers the power requirements along with the chips speed.  The demonstration model that they showed The Register varied from a high end of 1.2 volts at 915MHz to a mere 280 millivolts at 3MHz and down to 2 millivolts in sleep.  By scaling the power consumption Intel may have found a nice middle group between performance and TDP to keep ARM from making major inroads into the server room, if they can pull it off with more modern processors.   They also showed off a solar powered CPU which might be handy on a cell phone but seems of limited commercial value in the short term as well as a

Keeping with the theme of small, The Register also has news of research which has created a working transistor out of a single phosphorus atom, an atomic radius of 0.110nm for those who like some scale with their transistors.  The trick was the temperature; seeing as it is a measure of energy expressed as movement (to put it ridiculously simply) you need low temperatures to keep the atoms from moving more than 10nm.  At -196°C the atom was stable enough for its position to be accurately predicted which is absolutely necessary if you plan to use the atom as a qubit.  Overclocking is going to be difficult.


"The threshold voltage is the point at which transistors turn on and conduct electricity. If you can flip bits near this threshold, instead of using much larger swing that is typically many times this threshold voltage to turn zeros into ones and vice versa, then you can save a lot of power."

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