The August 2022 issue of IEEE Spectrum is here!

Close bar

Silicon Is Key to Quest for $5 LED Lightbulb

Bridgelux process grows gallium-nitride on high-volume silicon wafers

3 min read

The LED lightbulb has loads to recommend it. Compared to the compact fluorescent, it can be twice as efficient, lasts far longer, and is free of mercury. But high prices are holding back sales: A 40-watt-equivalent LED bulb with a good hue starts at around US $20, and 60-W versions retail for far more.

The good news is that this barrier to mass adoption should fall in the next two to three years, thanks to recent developments by the LED maker Bridgelux that should spur the launch of a $5 bulb. This California-based firm plans to slash the price of white emitting chips—which account for up to 70 percent of the cost of this type of bulb—by churning out millions of gallium nitride LEDs on 200-millimeter-diameter silicon wafers.

Keep Reading ↓Show less

This article is for IEEE members only. Join IEEE to access our full archive.

Join the world’s largest professional organization devoted to engineering and applied sciences and get access to all of Spectrum’s articles, podcasts, and special reports. Learn more →

If you're already an IEEE member, please sign in to continue reading.

Membership includes:

  • Get unlimited access to IEEE Spectrum content
  • Follow your favorite topics to create a personalized feed of IEEE Spectrum content
  • Save Spectrum articles to read later
  • Network with other technology professionals
  • Establish a professional profile
  • Create a group to share and collaborate on projects
  • Discover IEEE events and activities
  • Join and participate in discussions

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.

Keep Reading ↓Show less