If CMOS is the future, do nanotechnologies stand a chance?

IEEE Spectrum has a fascinating article this month on how Intel scientists and engineers overcame the loss of electrons through the ever-thinning insulation around the transistor gate. This thinning insulation has caused the latest generations of chips to be power-hungry and heat generating little trouble makers. By 2001, they could make them smaller, but not without a price.

The article entitled â''The High-k Solutionâ'' is the story of how this team went about developing a completely new gate stack for transistors. The result is that the next generation of 45-nm chips, wonâ''t suffer the same ills of power loss or heat production as previous generations.

The scientists are pretty confident that their solution will be useful as the next generation of chips get down to 32-nm dimensions. Whether this new transistor structure will work for the next two generations after that: 22 nm and 16 nm is a question that they are not ready to answer.

But CMOS remains alive and well in its endless fight with Mooreâ''s law. So, with CMOS' dominance of integrated circuits (ICS) will nanotechnologies ever play a part?

Not for a while. CMOS will remain the dominant technology for ICs. It seems the proverbial wall wonâ''t be hit by until 2020, or before the â''show stopperâ'' is met as the article terms it.

Research in carbon nanotubes and nanowires are exhibiting promise in creating basic logic elements. And there are even organic transistors that may be somewhat further off.

But the problem, of course, is not just making a carbon nanotube transistor, but connecting millions of them together, not to mention making each one of these types of transistors is a laborious and expensive process.

But over the next decade nanotechnology-based solutions may be able to lend a hand to CMOS. Over the next decade we may see hybrid systems where nanotubes (or other nanotechnologies) are combined with CMOS.

Who knows, maybe the next article we receive from the Intel scientists will be about how they were able to create such a hybrid system and keep up the good fight with Mooreâ''s law.


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