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The Transistor's 60th Birthday 185

Posted by kdawson
from the silly-hats-will-be-worn dept.
Apple Acolyte sends in a Forbes piece noting the 60th birthday of the transistor on Dec, 16. For the occasion the AP provides the obligatory Moore's-Law-is-ending, no-it-isn't article. From Forbes: "Sixty years ago, on Dec. 16, 1947, three physicists at Bell Laboratories in Murray Hill, N.J., built the world's first transistor. William Shockley, John Bardeen and William Brattain had been looking for a semiconductor amplifier to take the place of the vacuum tubes that made radios and other electronics so impossibly bulky, hot and power hungry."
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The Transistor's 60th Birthday

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  • The hell? (Score:5, Funny)

    by kaos07 (1113443) on Sunday December 16, 2007 @06:52AM (#21715800)

    This post is at least 5 minutes old and no comments?

    Either no one cares about the poor transistor, or you've all gotten lives.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by jacquesm (154384)
      Makes me wonder how many of todays 'geeks' have ever had a single transistor in their hands, much less done anything useful with it.

      Anybody who has held a soldering iron and done something digital with single transistors please raise your hand ? Vacuum tubes ? Relays ?

      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by dhavleak (912889)

        Anybody who has held a soldering iron and done something digital with single transistors please raise your hand ? Vacuum tubes ? Relays ?

        One hand raised way up here.

        Fanciest thing I ever did was a capacitance measuring device. Mostly used op-amps though IIRC there was a single discrete BJT in it as well. It was a really wierd device in the end though. You had to connect the leads of the capacitor and press a start button for the device to start measuring it. The idea was to use a constant current source to charge the capacitor up to a set voltage. So with voltage and charging current being constant, the capacitance value was proportional

      • by Bender_ (179208)
        Me me me! Long time ago.

        In between I worked on organic transistors, normal silicon transistors, high-k devices.. you name it.

      • by QuickFox (311231) on Sunday December 16, 2007 @08:06AM (#21716072)

        Anybody who has held a soldering iron and done something digital with single transistors please raise your hand ?
        Why digital? I made analog circuits with single transistors — a radio, and intercom, and some other cool gadgets.

        It was all part of an electronics toy set called "Electronic Engineering", where you could build various gadgets by connecting components in predefined ways. Very cool, but unfortunately I was far too young to understand what I was doing. Still it did capture my attention and speed me on the road to geekdom.
        • by jacquesm (154384)
          analog is obvious, I'm thinking more along the lines of a digital 4 bit code lock built out of individual transistors. Maybe we'll give rdl a pass too :)
        • by ChatHuant (801522)
          Why digital? I made analog circuits with single transistors

          You did, did you? Well, I made analog circuits with single NAND gates :). Take a 4011 CMOS NAND, or even a venerable bipolar 7400 [wikipedia.org], apply a bit of negative feedback, and you get op amp-like behavior; very usable for example as a linear amplifier in the audio band (or anything under maybe 1 MHz). Or suppose you need a bit of analog circuitry, maybe a voltage stabilizer on your board: just use any leftover NAND (or any inverter) gate; the possibili
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by v1 (525388)
          Radio Shack used to sell 150-in-1 and 200-in-one sets. They were 20"x 12" wood or plastic boxes with groups of parts on the top board, including transistors, resistors, capacitors, and a variety of other parts. The parts were mounted to the colorful top, labeled and grouped. Their connectors ran to numbered springs beside them. You'd use the included wire to run between parts, by bending springs to the side, inserting the stripped end of the wire, and releasing it.

          They came with booklets that had 150 (o
          • by QuickFox (311231)
            Indeed! I tried to find something similar to my childhood kit for my nephew and niece some years ago, when they were the right age. I think I searched very thoroughly everywhere. I couldn't find anything. Very unfortunate indeed.
            • by ibbey (27873)
              You can still get them, though possibly not in Radio Shack stores. RatShack still sells them online (http://www.radioshack.com/product/index.jsp?productId=2102913) and Amazon has an even better selection (such as http://www.amazon.com/Vintage-Sports-Cards-Inc-MX-906/dp/B00005K2SY/ [amazon.com]). They're also considerably more advanced then the ones that we used as kids. Unfortunately, the one big thing that hasn't changed from the older models is that the instructions still don't cover any theory on how your circuit wor
              • by ibbey (27873)
                Been so long that I posted here, I almost forgot that I can make real HTML links... Sorry about that.

                Radio Shack [radioshack.com]
                Amazon [amazon.com]
                • by QuickFox (311231)
                  Thanks for the links! That actually looks interesting. Maybe there are some possibilities after all.

                  I'm in Sweden, and didn't find anything in Swedish shops, and I didn't think of ordering abroad over the Web. Stupid of me. I'll look into this a bit more next time it's time for gifts. Thanks!

                  From the pictures I get the impression that in these kits the components are in fixed places, and you connect them with wires crisscrossing the kit. But I'm not sure because the pictures aren't very big. My childhood ki
                  • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

                    by v1 (525388)
                    Here is what you need: http://www.quasarelectronics.com/epl200.htm [quasarelectronics.com]

                    That kit is almost identical to my 200-in-1 kit. They moved the batteries up topside and added binding posts but that's the one. There is NO BETTER way to teach kids about electronics. The link on radio shack's page should be named "15-in-1 kit". Doesn't look like there's enough to make jack with it. I wonder how many projects are in that book they ship with it.

                    They must have bought it from Tandy. Nice, they even posted a list of the 20
      • Two hands up. :)
      • Gimme a break. I suspect many geeks here like electronics. I don't see how you *can't* like electronics if you're a geek.

        I mod guitar amps, and am working on building my first one, which will be all tube (5y3 rectifier tube, 12at7 and 12ax7 preamp tubes, and 6v6 output tubes.)

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Alioth (221270)
        Actually, it's not that uncommon to use the odd single transistor. Look at any commercial PCB (such as your graphics card, or PCB motherboard), and you'll spot quite a number of SOT-23 packaged transistors.

        Almost all of my digital electronics projects include at least one discrete transistor. Quite often, you need an open collector/open drain output from a chip, but it doesn't actually provide one - a single mosfet will do the job (maybe two if you need it to not be inverted). Very often you need to switch
      • by ncc74656 (45571) *

        Anybody who has held a soldering iron and done something digital with single transistors please raise your hand ? Vacuum tubes ? Relays ?

        Transistors? Yes. Relays? Not soldered, but ISTR there were some digital-logic projects that used the relay in Radio Shack's 150-in-1 kit. Tubes? Not digital, but I've gotten some old radios running again. (One only needed a couple of tubes replaced, but I recapped another one.)

      • by hoofie (201045)
        Yesterday - used an NPN transistor as a switch on the common cathode of a seven-segment led from a PIC output. It's still digital, just a way of not passing too much current through the PIC.
    • by Tablizer (95088)
      This post is at least 5 minutes old and no comments? Either no one cares about the poor transistor, or you've all gotten lives.

      We're using vacuum tube-based browsers, and they post slooowwww.
             
  • by TeknoHog (164938) on Sunday December 16, 2007 @06:55AM (#21715820) Homepage Journal
    a nice, warm-sounding amplifier is not something made of transistors. It's a series of tubes.
    • by ookabooka (731013) on Sunday December 16, 2007 @07:00AM (#21715838)
      As every electrical engineer knows, the frequency response of a transistor-based amplifier can be modified to mimic virtually anything, including tubes. Especially with new-fangled DSP's of today. . .Seriously though, anyone have a good technical paper about why tubes are better suited for some tasks? The only thing I can come up with is their resilience to voltage spikes, cosmic rays, and ability to dimly illuminate the immediate area, not to mention a way to visually detect dead units :-p
      • by Cadallin (863437) on Sunday December 16, 2007 @07:51AM (#21716040)

        The only thing I can come up with is their resilience to voltage spikes, cosmic rays...

        This is actually related to one of the major reasons: Power Handling. Vacuum tubes are still used for High Power transmitter amplifiers, much greater than 1kw.

        Also: The "Virtual Tube" DSP amps do not sound the same, regardless of what a tone-deaf Electrical Engineer says. Musicians are "Audiophiles" in the derogatory sense you intend, although they usually audiophiles in the true sense of being lovers of sound and music. They may not know EE, but that doesn't mean they don't know anything. Skilled musicians DO know music, and there is a reason they prefer tube amps for Guitars, Bass, etc.

        • by jacquesm (154384)
          if musicians can't tell tubes from transistors in double blind tests then I'm afraid that just like 'touch' in pianists it's a load of bull. It's a bit like saying you have a favorite kind of distortion that is unique to some component or other. There is no such thing, frequency response is a measurable quantity, and if two devices perform indistinguishable then they may as well be the same thing as far as the consumer is concerned. That 'tubes' sound different than transistors is taken for granted (but eve
        • You've just professed belief in something verging on a Randi challenge in a Slashdot discussion.

          Would you like an oxygen-free, 99.999% pure woven copper blindfold and gold-plated cigarette?
          • by Megane (129182)

            Copper? Don't make me laugh. Every audiophool knows that you need silver. And not just any silver, but pure isotope 109 silver (its higher density makes the sound flow better).

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by moosesocks (264553)

          Also: The "Virtual Tube" DSP amps do not sound the same, regardless of what a tone-deaf Electrical Engineer says.

          That's more likely because the DSP wasn't programmed properly. A transistor *should* in theory be able to replicate any sound within its frequency range. My guess is that the DSPs aren't correctly accounting for distortions caused by the tubes.

          On the other hand, "pro sound" tends to shy away from tube amps these days, because transistor amps have gotten good enough not to be noticeably differen

        • by GreatBunzinni (642500) on Sunday December 16, 2007 @10:15AM (#21716578)

          Skilled musicians DO know music, and there is a reason they prefer tube amps for Guitars, Bass, etc.

          Yes, and that reason is marketing. Pure, simple, intensive marketing. Lots and lots of marketing being fed to them throughout their life. Fender and Gibson make the best guitars, Marshal makes the best amps and tubes are better than solid state amps. That's what is constantly being fed to them through implicit and explicit marketing campaigns. Yet, no one can rationally explain why are they better than the others, besides the huge price tag that comes attached to those products and the fact that "OMG my guitar hero uses one of those so it must be excellent.

          On the other hand, Brian May made his career playing a guitar that was made from wood taken from a fireplace and some bike parts and it sounds better than any 2.5k euro guitars out there. Makes you think. Or at least it should.

          • The conspiracy is much older than that. Look at a Stradivarius violin or a Steinway Grand, play-o-phools continue to spend small fortunes on these musical instruments with no scientific justification. The same sound, guitars and amps included, can be had at any corner music or pawn shop for a fraction of the price. The world's going hell.
        • Got a double blind test proving that? :)
        • Was this ever proven with a recent side by side transistoror DSP vs. tube listening test using the same speakers? I doubt it. Sounds like a good mythbusters episode.

          • Nah ... Mythbusters are too polite. I'd like to see it on Penn & Teller's Bullshit!. Now that would be entertaining.
        • Because they prefer the distortion induced which sound to them more "warm" "sweet" or whatever adjective they want to qualify it, in comparison to digital processing, which has different set of distortion. But in the very end, whether one is better than the other for an everyday use (aka : not 1kw amplification) is a question of what attribute you are looking at. And as far as I know, for convenience/portability and quality of sound reproduction in comparison to the original nothing beat digital (and that i
      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by Dr. Cody (554864)
        Don't forget space heater. Until my landlord gets their No. 2 boiler going again, I need all the help I can get!
      • by TeknoHog (164938)
        I'm shocked that my joke was taken seriously. I'm actually a physicist/musician and I like my Gainclone [wikipedia.org] very much.
      • (...)and ability to dimly illuminate the immediate area, not to mention a way to visually detect dead units

        In the world of vacuum tube failure modes, filament burnout isn't very high on the list. One exception is series-string filament setups (most TVs, some radios) where production variances in heaters inevitably cause one or more tubes to experience an excessive voltage drop. Excessive voltage can considerably shorten heater life. Problem is, like series-string Christmas lights - when one heater burns out, the whole string (often every tube in the chassis except for the rectifier) goes dark. Interestingly en

        • by Sanat (702)
          In the old AA5 All american five radio's there was a #47 6 volt lamp used to illuminate the dial in parallel with 1/2 of the filament of the rectifier... usually a 35Z5. Also the DC voltage (B+)ran through this lamp too If the lamp burns out then that upsets the voltage distribution and will burn out the rectifier tube.

               
      • by gardyloo (512791)
        Indeed. I won't contribute to the debate of "warmth" in music when everyone in his right mind knows that transistors can do everything tubes can do. :)

        However, there's one place where tubes win out over transistors, as another poster stated: high-voltage amplifiers. Tubes can deal with much more power. More importantly, though (at least sometimes), is that when you use a tube amp, you're almost always stepping down the voltage going to the output. This drastically reduces the chance of
      • As an electrical engineer I also know tubes circuits can be designed with flat responses well beyond human audibility (hence, tube radios and transmitters) and that DSP isn't typically used to alter frequency response. Oh, and tube filaments keep glowing long after a tube's gain has collapsed. Some of the advantages you list are correct, supposedly the Soviets until recently used tubes in some critical circuits of their fighter planes. They also continued development in the field long after the Western worl
      • by Tablizer (95088)
        As every electrical engineer knows, the frequency response of a transistor-based amplifier can be modified to mimic virtually anything, including tubes.

        But you have to know all the characteristics of something to mimic it correctly. It's sort of comparable human characters in CGI: they are difficult to "get right" not because we don't have the ability to control CGI enough, but rather because nobody knows how to program the subtleties needed to fool the viewer that they are looking at actual footage of a
    • A nice, warm sleeping bag in a tent that you carried in your backpack is better than any hotel room.

      There's a taste for everything, but there's no denying that transistors make sound that's closer to the original, same as a hotel room is closer to the room where you (OK, most people...) sleep at home.

      Actually, one of the tube amplifiers biggest shortcomings, its high distortion, is one of the reasons why tubes are still used for a niche application: guitar amplifiers. The distortion caused by the tubes has

      • by Fear the Clam (230933) on Sunday December 16, 2007 @10:24AM (#21716622)
        A nice, warm sleeping bag in a tent that you carried in your backpack is better than any hotel room.

        Right up until the next morning when you wish you had a hot shower and room service.
      • I have a 45 year old amp on a shelf with distortion figures bettering any scientifically proven metric for audibility at normal listening levels. The distortion argument became invalid with the introduction of the Williamson circuit (a very long time ago.)
    • by Blkdeath (530393)

      a nice, warm-sounding amplifier is not something made of transistors. It's a series of tubes.

      This line is getting really old. It's also utter hogwash. The only credence I'll give to it is if you over drive a tube amp its distortion sounds less painful than an over driven solid state amp.

      The argument is akin to the nuts who believe records (vinyl) are superior to CDs. Yes, vinyl has a warmth to it but that's essentially the minute hiss of the needle scraping the record surface. In other words the warmth people like about vinyl is a fundamental flaw that's just been adopted as an inherent greatne

  • not entirely (Score:2, Interesting)

    by User 956 (568564)
    the AP provides the obligatory Moore's-Law-is-ending, no-it-isn't article.

    Not really-- if you're AMD, Moore's Law and Murphy's Law are kind of becoming the same thing [infoworld.com].
  • rewritten history (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Bender_ (179208) on Sunday December 16, 2007 @07:02AM (#21715854) Journal
    The field effect transistor, the device that is relevant today, was invented and patented in 1926 by
    Julius Edgar Lilienfeld [wikipedia.org]. Due to his patents many claims by Bell Labs were thrown out.

    The device that was invented by Bell Labs in 1947 was a point contact transistor. An inherently fragile device not fit for mass production. The same device was invented in parallel in France by two german Scientists: Welker and Matere see here [wikipedia.org].

    Schockley himself did however invent the bipolar junction transistor a couple of years later. This invention was truly a streak of genius as it is the most complex of all devices.

    So, thanks to american corporate giants history was rewritten again.
    • by ookabooka (731013)

      So, thanks to american corporate giants history was rewritten again.

      If I recall correctly Lilienfeld never actually constructed the transistor. So I think it is safe to say it is the 60th anniversary of the first physically-existent transistor and not the 60th anniversary of the idea of a transistor.
      • by halftrack (454203)
        Correct, Lilienfeld had the theory down but couldn't build a working device due to poorly understood and unknown surface effects. The transistor he described was a field effect transistor (FET.) This was also the type of transistor that Bardeen, Brattain and Schockley wanted to build. However, as I understand it, the point-contact transistor (which is a bipolar junction transistor, quite different from a FET) they created in 1947 was an "accident" while trying to build a FET.
        • by QuantumG (50515)
          So, basically, what your saying is, Lilienfeld was a wanna-be patent troll and probably did nothing but delay the invention of the transistor because no-one wanted to step on his patent. That's something to be proud of.

          • by Bender_ (179208)

            Mod parent down for being plain stupid.

            Lilienfeld did in fact invent the working principle of the transistor. Whether he built one is not known. However he did all the groundlaying work on electrolytic capacitors as they are still used today. Therefore he knew very well how to create extremely thin insulating Al2O3 film that were a necessity for the type of transitor he described in his patents. It does therefore not appear entirely unlikely that he built some of the devices.

            The stuff about surface states i
    • Lilienfeld never made an actual device. In EE and applied physics you don't get credit for inventing something if you were never actually able to make it. Moreover, the reason Lilienfeld wasn't able to make one was because he didn't know the underlying physics. He couldn't have: quantum mechanics wouldn't even be around for a couple of years. So, here we have someone who never made a device and didn't really even understand what was going on theoretically. Oh yeah, and he filed a patent, but never published
      • by Bender_ (179208)

        No quantum mechanic is required to describe field effect transistors in accumulation mode. And that is exactly what Lilienfeld proposed. The only theory that is required is that of space charge limited current, a field Lilienfeld has several publications in.
        • by Manchot (847225)
          You certainly do need quantum mechanics to describe surface states, which is the main problem with his designs.
          • by Bender_ (179208)

            Nope, we are talking about thin film transistors. Main problem is getting the semiconductor off current under control (purity), improve mobility (crystallinity, purity, doping) and getting a good gate insulator that is not attacked by the deposition process. With certain materials it is literally possible to build transistors in your kitchen. (eg. CdS)

            Look at the early work in thin films transistors. Schockleys attempts at building FETs suffered from poor silicon deposition. It took until the 70ies until pe
    • by prat393 (757559)
      Well then just wish *me* a happy birthday, I'm 23 today.
  • by rm999 (775449) on Sunday December 16, 2007 @07:05AM (#21715864)
    It's a little hard to put the importance of the transistor into perspective. One way of looking at it is about 3 billion transistors are made worldwide - a second. Imagine how different the world would be if these transistors were still made manually with vacuum tubes (or not made at all.)

    While you read this post, about 20 transistors were manufactured for every person in the world.
    • by ookabooka (731013) on Sunday December 16, 2007 @07:07AM (#21715874)

      While you read this post, about 20 transistors were manufactured for every person in the world.

      Feel free to send me my 20 whenever you get the chance. What sort of transistors are these? MOSFETs? BJTs? N-channel, P-channel? I like them all.
      • Feel free to send me my 20 whenever you get the chance. What sort of transistors are these? MOSFETs? BJTs? N-channel, P-channel? I like them all.

        Although I'm sure you're joking, the number of transistors manufactured as discrete components (ie. something big enough to pick up and solder to a circuit board) is insignificantly small compared to the total number manufactured (most of which are "printed" onto an IC).

        For instance, a quad-core pentium contains 820 million transistors, which makes me think that th

    • by canuck57 (662392)

      It's a little hard to put the importance of the transistor into perspective. One way of looking at it is about 3 billion transistors are made worldwide - a second. Imagine how different the world would be if these transistors were still made manually with vacuum tubes (or not made at all.)

      That must be discrete transistors, as a modern day AMD X2 has over 200m per unit. So 3 billion transistors would only be 15 AMD X2 processors.

      Imagine a AMD X2 built out of tubes, 200+ million of them. The power bill..

  • by hedley (8715) <hedley@pacbell.net> on Sunday December 16, 2007 @07:05AM (#21715870) Journal
    might I recommend this book by Bo Lojek. Its a great history of how it all happened with a lot of technical detail. English is not Bo's first language but that is not an issue as its the technical detail and the science that carries this book.
  • by niceone (992278) * on Sunday December 16, 2007 @07:37AM (#21715994) Journal
    Bipolar?
  • by ichigo 2.0 (900288) on Sunday December 16, 2007 @08:17AM (#21716110)
    "Imagine a Beowulf Cluster of these!"
  • iPod Nano (Score:3, Funny)

    by tsa (15680) on Sunday December 16, 2007 @04:46PM (#21719596) Homepage
    Transistors are really amazing devices. Imagine how big an iPod Nano would be if you had to make it using vacuum tubes! I guess you'd need a whole power plant just to keep it alive! And it wouldn't even work, because the tubes are too slow.
  • Quoting Gordon Moore as "Every year we make on the order of 1,017 transistors. That's a one followed by 17 zeros."
    Is anybody proofreading at Forbes.com?

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