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Hardware Technology

Electromechanical Switches Could Reduce Future Computers' Cooling Needs 95

Earthquake Retrofit writes "Science Daily is reporting that researchers at Case Western Reserve University have taken the first step to building a computer capable of operating in extreme heat. Te-Hao Lee, Swarup Bhunia and Mehran Mehregany have made electromechanical switches — building blocks of circuits — that can take twice the heat that would render electronic transistors useless. 'The group used electron beam lithography and sulfur hexafluoride gas to etch the switches, just a few hundred nanometers in size, out of silicon carbide. The result is a switch that has no discernable leakage and no loss of power in testing at 500 degrees Celsius. A pair of switches were used to make an inverter, which was able to switch on and off 500,000 times per second, performing computation each cycle. The switches, however, began to break down after 2 billion cycles and in a manner the researchers do not yet fully understand. ... Whether they can reach the point of competing with faster transistors for office and home and even supercomputing, remains to be seen. The researchers point out that with the ability to handle much higher heat, the need for costly and space-consuming cooling systems would be eliminated.'"
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Electromechanical Switches Could Reduce Future Computers' Cooling Needs

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  • by Bobnova ( 1435535 ) on Saturday October 09, 2010 @12:07PM (#33845580)
    Hundreds of nanometers is rather larger then the current tech 32nm. These are going to have to get quite a bit smaller, faster, and more durable before they stand a chance. A two billion cycle limit is the worst part i think, my cpu did that in the last .66 seconds.
  • by BarneyGuarder ( 44042 ) on Saturday October 09, 2010 @12:26PM (#33845718)

    This is a research idea that MAY be useful, the demise of CMOS silicon has been highly exaggerated.

    From the summary:

    "an inverter, which was able to switch on and off 500,000 times per second" -> 500kHz is not so great

    "however, began to break down after 2 billion cycles" or about 1 second at current processor speeds. That increases to 4000 seconds at 500kHz, or a little more than an hour.

    Also, we can put billions of error free transistors on a chip for a few dollars. THAT is the real hurdle that nothing else has been able to clear yet. We will likely be with silicon for a while after it stops shrinking for this reason.

  • Re:Steampunk (Score:4, Insightful)

    by msauve ( 701917 ) on Saturday October 09, 2010 @12:32PM (#33845750)
    "an inverter which operates at 0.0005 Ghz is less interesting. Somehow I don't think we'll be seeing this replace electronics anytime soon."

    As you alluded to, there are billions of microcontrollers out there running at less than 0.5 MHz. Heck, the good ol' Mostek 6502 ran at 1 MHz, and started an industry (KIM-1, Commodore PET, Apple ][, etc.) This is still in the research stage, but even at the current speeds, useful processors could be built (but apparently not last very long), especially since this would open new markets where traditional semiconductor gates won't function.

    But, even short of a full processor, there could be uses for logical applications (gate arrays).
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday October 09, 2010 @12:32PM (#33845752)

    Hum, these relays are still working with electrons AFAIK, so they would still generate (susceptible to eavesdrop) and be susceptible to EMF. Pure mechanical switches are not, but thes are electromechanical, thus exploiting mechanics to switch on and off a current

  • by Skapare ( 16644 ) on Saturday October 09, 2010 @12:32PM (#33845756) Homepage

    If there is current, there is electromagnetic radiation. And the EMP could create a current transient high enough to cause an arc across the switch contact, which could have temperatures far far in excess of 500 C and melt or fuse the tiny switch. There may be arcs already at the normal operating current wearing it out.

  • by Rigrig ( 922033 ) on Saturday October 09, 2010 @12:41PM (#33845790) Homepage
    Only the switching is mechanical, there's still current running through the switches so you still get electromagnetic radiation.

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