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Plotting a Moore’s Law for Flexible Electronics

A five-year project at Imec aims to make big boosts in the density of thin-film transistor circuitry

3 min read
Photo: IMEC
Near Field Communicator: There are 1,700 transistors on the flexible chip in this NFC transmitter.
Photo: IMEC

At a meeting in midtown Manhattan, Kris Myny picks up what looks like an ordinary paper business card and, with little fanfare, holds it to his smartphone. The details of the card appear almost immediately on the screen inside a custom app.

It’s a simple demonstration, but Myny thinks it heralds an exciting future for flexible circuitry. In January, he began a five-year project at the nanoelectronics research institute Imec in Leuven, Belgium, to demonstrate that thin-film electronics has significant potential outside the realm of display electronics. In fact, he hopes that the project, funded with a €1.5 million grant from the European Research Council (ERC), could demonstrate that there is a path for the mass production of denser and denser flexible circuits—in other words, a Moore’s Law for bendable ICs.

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The First Million-Transistor Chip: the Engineers’ Story

Intel’s i860 RISC chip was a graphics powerhouse

21 min read
Twenty people crowd into a cubicle, the man in the center seated holding a silicon wafer full of chips

Intel's million-transistor chip development team

In San Francisco on Feb. 27, 1989, Intel Corp., Santa Clara, Calif., startled the world of high technology by presenting the first ever 1-million-transistor microprocessor, which was also the company’s first such chip to use a reduced instruction set.

The number of transistors alone marks a huge leap upward: Intel’s previous microprocessor, the 80386, has only 275,000 of them. But this long-deferred move into the booming market in reduced-instruction-set computing (RISC) was more of a shock, in part because it broke with Intel’s tradition of compatibility with earlier processors—and not least because after three well-guarded years in development the chip came as a complete surprise. Now designated the i860, it entered development in 1986 about the same time as the 80486, the yet-to-be-introduced successor to Intel’s highly regarded 80286 and 80386. The two chips have about the same area and use the same 1-micrometer CMOS technology then under development at the company’s systems production and manufacturing plant in Hillsboro, Ore. But with the i860, then code-named the N10, the company planned a revolution.

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