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An Odometer for Silicon Chips

Future chips will show signs of age much faster than previous generations. Now there's a circuit that keeps tabs on their wear and tear

3 min read

15 June 2009—You can tell a car’s age and how long you expect it to last just by looking at the mileage on its odometer. University of Minnesota electrical engineering professor Chris H. Kim wants to do essentially the same for silicon chips. This week at the VLSI Symposia, in Kyoto, Japan, he reported the development of a silicon circuit that tracks the three signs of aging that can slow down a chip’s performance. The hope is that integrating such a circuit into a microprocessor could help the microprocessor compensate for its own aging.

”The notion that a transistor ages is a new concept for circuit designers,” says Kim. Transistor aging has traditionally been the bailiwick of engineers who design the processes that make transistors; they also formulate recipes that guarantee the transistors will operate within a certain frequency and other parameters typically for 10 years or so.

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The Transistor at 75

The past, present, and future of the modern world’s most important invention

2 min read
A photo of a birthday cake with 75 written on it.
Lisa Sheehan

Seventy-five years is a long time. It’s so long that most of us don’t remember a time before the transistor, and long enough for many engineers to have devoted entire careers to its use and development. In honor of this most important of technological achievements, this issue’s package of articles explores the transistor’s historical journey and potential future.

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