Intel has warned that, as computer chips get smaller, they will be more likely to break.
"In the next 10-15 years Moore's Law is going to make platforms more unreliable," Padma Apparao, a staff engineer at Intel's Corporate Technology Group, told vnunet.com. Unreliable chips make faulty calculations and could cause a system to crash, she warned.
Researchers constantly work on shrinking the size of the transistors on a chip, allowing for denser and smaller chips that run at faster clock speeds and use less power.
Current generation chips use 90 and 130 nanometre technology, and chipmakers are working on the first 65 nanometre models. At around 50 nanometres silicon chips run into physical roadblocks that prevent them from getting any smaller. At this point it is up to nanotechnology to step in and take over.
Computing errors are common in today's processors and chip manufacturers have added error correction technology to deal with the problem. But in the future error correction will not be able to keep up with the increased error rate, according to Apparao.
Smaller and more densely packed chips are more susceptible to environmental impacts including ionization, where energetic particles like cosmic rays or alpha particles disturb operations inside the chip.
"The processor becomes more susceptible to the environment," Apparao explained.
Other factors that could have an impact are electrical noise, oxidation and minor shifts inside a chip that misalign components. And as chips get more complex it will become more common for production errors to remain unnoticed during testing.
Apparao has developed a technology that monitors the number of faulty calculations that a processor performs. If the error rate increases, the technology can take a processor inside a server offline and move the workload to another processor, thereby preventing a system crash caused by defective code.
Home users who have only one processor in their computers can move the workload to a different core on their processor, she said.
But in enterprise and desktop situations users would have to purchase a new processor to repair the problem.
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