Seeing Double

Someday, chips might be made with X-rays. Until then, double-patterning lithography will be the only game in town

14 min read
Illustration by Emily Cooper
Illustration: Emily Cooper

In 1971, Intel astounded the world with its 4004 microprocessor, whose 2300 transistors could execute 60 000 instructions per second. Today, the 820 million transistors of an Intel Core 2 Extreme chip can process nearly 72 billion instructions per second.

Such an improvement is the inevitable result of several decades of Moore’s Law, which refers to the semiconductor industry’s ability to double, every 18 to 24 months, the number of transistors on an integrated circuit. But the chips haven’t seen a commensurate six-orders-of-magnitude cost increase, and that’s because chip manufacturers have had to make those transistors not only smaller but cheaper. In 1963, a transistor cost US $10. That transistor corresponded to half a storage bit and cost as much as an automobile tire at the time. Today flash memory costs $25 for 8 gigabytes, or 64 x 230 bits—enough storage to encode the text of all the books in a small-town library, or more than a 100-word-per-minute typist could type in his lifetime. And it will be cheaper still by the time you read this article.

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Climate-Friendly Ethereum Is One Merge Away

Successful tests set the stage for the cryptocurrency’s switchover in September

3 min read
A large blue lit data center. A figure wearing a white cleanroom suit walks towards a green lit room.

Here pictured is Evobits crypto farm, an Ethereum mining rig in Romania.

Akos Stiller/Bloomberg/Getty Images

The merge is coming, and crypto may never be the same.

“The merge” is shorthand for Ethereum’s rapidly approaching switch from one compute-intensive form of blockchain verification to a much less resource-heavy method. In other words, the cryptocurrency will be switching from proof-of-work to proof-of-stake. This move, which is years in the making, changes how Ethereum maintains consensus—and drastically slashes power consumption.

“Ethereum’s power-hungry days will soon be numbered,” says Terence Tsao, Ethereum protocol developer at Prysmatic Labs. “And I hope that’s true for the rest of the industry, too.”

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Boston Dynamics AI Institute Targets Basic Research

Hyundai’s new robotics venture recalls Bell Labs’ and Xerox PARC’s glory days

4 min read
A collage of a headshot of Marc Raibert who is an older man with a beard and glasses in a flower print shirt, and an large black and white Atlas humanoid robot
Photo-illustration: IEEE Spectrum; Photos: Boston Dynamics

This morning, Hyundai Motor Group and Boston Dynamics announced the launch of the Boston Dynamics AI Institute, to “spearhead advancements in artificial intelligence and robotics.” BDAII (I guess we’ll have to get used to that acronym!) will be located in Cambridge, Mass., with more than US $400 million of initial investment from Hyundai (Boston Dynamics’ parent company) and BD itself to get things started. Heading up the whole thing will be Boston Dynamics founder Marc Raibert himself, with Al Rizzi (Boston Dynamics’ chief scientist) as chief technology officer.

This new venture looks promising.

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Accelerate Time to Market with Calibre nmLVS Recon Technology: A New Paradigm for Circuit Verification

Improve LVS circuit verification productivity in early-stage SoC integration and reduce time to market

1 min read
Accelerate Time to Market with Calibre nmLVS Recon Technology: A New Paradigm for Circuit Verification

One thing is clear…tapeouts are getting harder, and taking longer. As part of a growing suite of innovative early-stage design verification technologies, the Calibre nmLVS Recon tool enables design teams to rapidly examine dirty and immature designs to find and fix high-impact circuit errors earlier and faster, leading to an overall reduction in tapeout schedules and time to market.

Learn more in this technical paper.