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Hardware Science Technology

Magnetic Transistor Could Cut Power Consumption and Make Chips Reprogrammable 126

Posted by Soulskill
from the reprogram-ranch-chips-to-sour-cream dept.
ananyo writes "Transistors, the simple switches at the heart of all modern electronics, generally use a tiny voltage to toggle between 'on' and 'off.' The voltage approach is highly reliable and easy to miniaturize, but has its disadvantages. First, keeping the voltage on requires power, which drives up the energy consumption of the microchip. Second, transistors must be hard-wired into the chips and can't be reconfigured, which means computers need dedicated circuitry for all their functions. Now, researchers have made a type of transistor that can be switched with magnetism. The device could cut the power consumption of computers, cell phones and other electronics — and allow chips themselves to be 'reprogrammed' (abstract)."
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Magnetic Transistor Could Cut Power Consumption and Make Chips Reprogrammable

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  • by Osgeld (1900440) on Sunday February 03, 2013 @12:29AM (#42775563)

    one that requires voltage to keep it on, one that requires voltage to keep it off (P channel vs N channel FET's), ones that require current levels to keep it on and off (npn and pnp BJT's)

    so to say

    "First, keeping the voltage on requires power"

    is a broad statement, yea something that uses power requires power

    Then

    "Second, transistors must be hard-wired into the chips and can't be reconfigured"

    well yea, but we have long established configurations of transistors that can be reconfigured to suit needs, its called programable logic and spans the life of PAL's, GAL's, CLPD's, and upto FPGA's

    so, what exactly are you trying to tell me other than magnets can drop power consumption since they have a physical state memory, we already know that from core memory.

    • I think you can summarize this as we now have something that doesn't require physical changes (PROM) or large electrical fields (FLASH) to contain a state.

      RAM used require some form of power; to keep current flowing you need a voltage difference and to keep a voltage difference on FETs there is still some current going because you need it to switch in less than eons.

      Now all you need to do is build up a magnetic field (which still uses power) but then the state will remain for a considerable time without h

      • by Osgeld (1900440)

        you just discribed capacitive FRAM which has been around commercially for nearly a decade

    • Sorry, I couldn't let this pass uncommented. Yeah, yeah, -1 Pedantic.

      "one that requires voltage to keep it on, one that requires voltage to keep it off (P channel vs N channel FET's),"

      The ones that need a voltage to stay on are enhancement-mode MOSFETs. The ones that need a voltage to stay off are depletion-mode FETs, either MOSFET or JFET. All of those come in N- and P-channel flavors. They're symmetrical other than for P-type having less mobility. (And thus being more tolerant of dirty processes, which is

    • by Shavano (2541114)

      one that requires voltage to keep it on, one that requires voltage to keep it off (P channel vs N channel FET's), ones that require current levels to keep it on and off (npn and pnp BJT's)

      so to say

      "First, keeping the voltage on requires power"

      is a broad statement, yea something that uses power requires power

      And it's not TRUE either. Keeping charge on a buried gate requires no power. How the f*** does this guy think Flash?

  • The idea of mutating the hardware directly sounds akin to the regulation of gene expression [wikipedia.org] in living cells. For example, the "software" of a virus takes control over the "hardware" of a cell's DNA production, and forces it to make copies of itself. That sounds pretty interesting. (And dangerous) In that kind of a system, you'd need an analogue of white blood cells to seek out and "destroy" (re-wire) captured logic gates.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Core !! Old as the hills !! So old, it has come back around !! Probably some shit unix time wrap failure !!

  • by gman003 (1693318) on Sunday February 03, 2013 @01:00AM (#42775661)

    It's a standard field effect transistor, except the gate can hold a magnetic charge on its own, with no voltage applied. You only need to apply a charge to change its state. It actually looks sort of like a flash cell, except as the gate of a transistor.

    However, it's made with indium antimonide, which apparently doesn't work well with existing fabrication methods. And I have to wonder what the switching times on it would be - if it can handle the multi-gigahertz frequencies in modern processors.

    The whole "reconfigurable" bit is journalist bullshit. Pay no attention to it.

    • >However, it's made with indium antimonide, which apparently doesn't work well with existing fabrication methods.

      So it's dead then.

      • by mrbluze (1034940)

        >However, it's made with indium antimonide, which apparently doesn't work well with existing fabrication methods.

        So it's dead then.

        Yep, slashdotted in one fell swoop. This is the place where great ideas go to die.

      • Just so you know, none of the high-end chips that will be around in seven years work well with existing fabrication methods. Each new generation of chip requires new technology, some of it very impressive.
        • And in the next seven years, it isn't going to be indium antimonide gates. PCM might make a showing if you're lucky.

    • This is similar to a memristor http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Memristor [wikipedia.org]

      In the indium antimonide device, the retained state is stored magnetically. In the HP titanium dioxide device state is held by the movement of oxygen ions. There are many memristor devices that use different mechanisms to store state, including magnetic spin. Check the Wikipedia article for details.

      Besides memory, one of the uses for the HP style of memristor is configuration of FPGAs. If this works it would shrink the size of FPGA cell

    • by Acapulco (1289274)

      Even if journalism bullshit at the moment, it would be really cool if one day actual reconfigurable chips where available. Imagine downloading the configuration for the next Intel chip, and applying it onto the same board as the previous gen. Or maybe even on-the-fly reconfiguring capabilities, such that certain parts of the processor change to suit the needs of instructions currently executing. Maybe part of the processor can work as a GPU if you are gaming, and as a multithreaded-optimized config if you n

  • First, keeping the voltage on requires power, which drives up the energy consumption of the microchip.

    Barely. Almost every digital chip out there uses CMOS [wikipedia.org] logic. The whole point of CMOS logic is that, when the gates aren't switching, no current flows. That means that no power is drawn. In practice, a little bit of current leaks, but this is a small effect at all but the smallest process sizes.

    It's not all clear from the abstract how the authors expect to maintain a magnetic field without any static power consumption. Perhaps using ferromagnets, but I wouldn't hold my breath -- MRAM still hasn't happen

    • by Mr Z (6791)

      Sure, very little current flows through the transistor's gate. But, the transistors themselves are imperfect switches, and so you get some current flowing from Vdd to Vss all the time anyway. For the products I tend to work on, around half or more of the power consumption comes from leakage, amazingly.

      For the uninitiated: CMOS gates consist of a pair of complementary switches. One set connects Vdd (the positive voltage indicating a logic '1') to the output node, and the other set connects Vss or GND (th

      • by tibit (1762298)

        Exactly. And when you get a billion of those imperfect leaky transistors on a chip, suddenly a big chunk of power gets wasted right there -- to a point where not only you can't ignore it, but it defines the limits of what you can achieve. Leakage is a big problem these days.

    • by jkflying (2190798)

      TI has a working implementation of FRAM, they use it in their ultra-low-power MCUs.

      FRAM Technology Overview
      Welcome to the future of embedded memory

      As the world demands faster and higher performance in every application, new memory technology is needed to enable smarter solutions. FRAM from Texas Instruments provides unified memory with dynamic partitioning and memory access speeds 100 times faster than flash. FRAM is also capable of zero power state retention in all power modes, which means that writes are guaranteed, even in the event of a power loss. And with a write endurance of over 100 trillion cycles, EEPROM is no longer required. All of this is possible at less than 100A/MHz active power consumption – a first for the semiconductor industry.

      http://www.ti.com/mcu/docs/mcuproductcontentnp.tsp?familyId=1751&sectionId=95&tabId=2840&family=mcu [ti.com]

    • by EmagGeek (574360)

      Mod parent up, please.

  • We gonna have some real smart robots someday.

  • This article is almost 100% weasel words. Of course, just like optical computers and 3d storage cubes, it's 5-10 years away, right?

    Jeez.

  • Remember all those post-apocalyptic shows in which a giant EMP reverts the world to a technological wasteland?
    Put this these in all our electronics and we might get to find out what that's like.

  • Check this video out:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pEof8E2cF8o

    Back then I was thinking of how this could overcome the heating problem we would get if we could change the characteristics of each transistor in a 3D layered transistor array. Imagine having a FPGA with 10x10x10 layers, all cross addressable and connectable, Diagonally as well as parallel.

  • ... you can brick a computer if you get it to near a large magnet.... like a speaker?.

  • by 0xG (712423)

    use a tiny voltage to toggle between 'on' and 'off.'

    LOL
    Electronics 101: Transistors are current switched devices.

    transistors must be hard-wired into the chips

    LOL
    That comment just speaks for itself. Friggin softies.

  • Some of the transistors wanted to become the new type, but then changed their mind and wanted to be hard wired, then changed their minds again ... in the end we decided they were flip flops!

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