The Plastic Processor

Europeans announce the first organic microprocessor

3 min read

Take a bow, flexible chip. This week at the International Solid-State Circuits Conference, in San Francisco, European researchers will introduce the world’s first microprocessor made with organic semiconductors. The 4000-transistor, 8-bit logic circuit has the processing power of only a 1970s-era silicon model, but it has a key advantage—it can bend. The device’s designers say the chip could lead the way to cheaper flexible displays and sensors. Wrapped around pipes, for example, sheets of sensors with these processors could record average water pressure, and wrapped around food and pharmaceuticals, they might indicate that your tuna is rancid or that you forgot to take your pills.

The key to the chip’s design was taming the somewhat unruly organic transistor, says Jan Genoe, a polymer and molecular electronics researcher at Belgian nanotech research center Imec, in Leuven, who led the research with colleague Kris Myny. One advantage silicon has over organics is its monocrystalline structure, which allows for well-behaved switches. If you increase the transistor gate’s voltage above a known threshold, the current turns on. But today’s organic transistors—which swap silicon for a polymer—are unpredictable. Each one can have a slightly different switching threshold.

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3 Ways 3D Chip Tech Is Upending Computing

AMD, Graphcore, and Intel show why the industry’s leading edge is going vertical

8 min read
Vertical
A stack of 3 images.  One of a chip, another is a group of chips and a single grey chip.
Intel; Graphcore; AMD
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A crop of high-performance processors is showing that the new direction for continuing Moore’s Law is all about up. Each generation of processor needs to perform better than the last, and, at its most basic, that means integrating more logic onto the silicon. But there are two problems: One is that our ability to shrink transistors and the logic and memory blocks they make up is slowing down. The other is that chips have reached their size limits. Photolithography tools can pattern only an area of about 850 square millimeters, which is about the size of a top-of-the-line Nvidia GPU.

For a few years now, developers of systems-on-chips have begun to break up their ever-larger designs into smaller chiplets and link them together inside the same package to effectively increase the silicon area, among other advantages. In CPUs, these links have mostly been so-called 2.5D, where the chiplets are set beside each other and connected using short, dense interconnects. Momentum for this type of integration will likely only grow now that most of the major manufacturers have agreed on a 2.5D chiplet-to-chiplet communications standard.

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