Fujitsu Siemens eyes nanotech for chips

With silicon being pushed to its limits, some see carbon nanotubes as the future of chips.

Ingrid Marson
2 min read
HANNOVER, Germany--Microprocessors that use carbon nanotubes rather than copper wires to connect layers of transistors may be available in less than a decade, according to Fujitsu Siemens.

Joseph Reger, chief technology officer of Fujitsu Siemens, said during a press conference at the CeBit trade show here Thursday that his company has developed a prototype of carbon nanotube technology and is now researching how to make it on a commercial scale. "It is at least six or seven years from production," Reger said.

Reger explained that this technology is needed to enable the development of ever more powerful microprocessors.

"The first microprocessor of the world was made by Intel in 1971 and contained just a few thousand (transistors)...Today's chips contain around 200 million transistors--transistors have been shrinking incredibly," Reger said. "Ten years from now we will need this technology" to allow transistors to keep shrinking.

If the transistors within a microprocessor are below a certain size, copper wires cannot be used to connect the layers of transistors, because the electrical currents running through the wires will interfere with the signals on adjacent lines.

"Copper wires don't work if you shrink microprocessors to scale of 40 (nanometers)--you get electronic radiation," Reger said. A nanometer is one-billionth of a meter.

With carbon nanotubes there is much less risk of interference. "Nanotubes can pump 1,000 times more power (than copper wires) without radiating," he said.

Intel co-founder Gordon Moore earlier this week predicted that it might be easier to introduce carbon nanotubes into chips by using them as interconnects between transistors. Interconnects remain a big problem, and the investment and efficiency of silicon transistors will make them tough to displace.

Nanotechnology can also be used in other areas such as networking and storage.

Networks that are composed of optical fibers are often switched by converting the optical signal to an electrical signal, then converting it back to an optical signal. Fujitsu has developed a mirror-based optical switch technology in its labs that involves "an array of mirrors on a nanoscale," Reger said.

That technology may soon be available, he said. "It's not quite a product, but it's very close to the product phase."

In the storage area, Reger spoke positively about IBM's Millipede technology, which allows more data to be stored in a certain surface area by writing data to the disk mechanically, rather than electronically.

Ingrid Marson of ZDNet UK reported from Hannover, Germany.