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The Spaser Nanolaser

Surface plasmon resonance lasers are the smallest nanolasers yet

3 min read

In the quest to make computer processors smaller and faster, computing with light instead of relatively slow electrons has long been a tantalizing goal. One roadblock has been the inability to make lasers tiny enough so that several thousand of them could fit easily on a chip. In late August, two groups of researchers reported the construction of a new kind of nanometer-scale laser. Surface plasmon resonance nanolasers, or spasers, are the smallest lasers yet made, and their creators say the devices could pave the way toward ultrafast optical computing.

Spasers can "bridge the worlds of electronics and optics at truly molecular-length scales," says mechanical engineering professor Xiang Zhang, of the University of California, Berkeley, who led one of the groups with research associate Rupert Oulton.

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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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