How do we get faster processors when we can’t shrink them anymore?

Over the past 30 years or so the transistor (tiny switches that make up a processor) has consistently been shrinking with recent models down to 7 nanometers or about 20 atoms wide. We are fast approaching the physical minimum for transistor size. When that happens, the question is how do we get faster processing speeds?

Conventional transistors can convey just two values of information: As a switch, a transistor is either on or off, which translates into the 1s and 0s of binary language. One way to increase processing capacity without adding more transistors would be to increase how much information each transistor conveys by introducing intermediate states between the on and off states of binary devices.

Dr. Kyeongjae Cho, professor of materials science and engineering at The University of Texas at Dallas and his team have developed a multi-value logic transistor based on zinc oxide. Cho’s device is capable of two electronically stable and reliable intermediate states between 0 and 1, boosting the number of logic values per transistor from two to three or four. This creates a huge benefit, processors will be able to achieve incredible speeds without adding more transistors. Another benefit to this technology is that it’s compatible with existing computer-chip configurations.

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