Using chemical reactions to produce chips could create the defect free machine, claim scientists.
Hewlett Packard Laboratories has created a prototype supercomputer called the Teramac using factory reject chips containing a total of 220,000 defects. Although the machine does not yet use chemical technology, it functions despite its many faults thanks to a novel circuit board design, which could be the forerunner of a chemical computer, its creators told US journal 'Science'.
Such a computer, according to HP architect Philip Kueckes, would create circuits using chemical reactions rather than silicon chips and light, the current method. Light wavelengths can only be reduced to a certain length before they become too short and turn into X-rays. But using chemical reactions instead would enable computer designers to shrink the size of chips and circuits to atomic level.
This would, in turn, enable them to put many thousands of components on one circuit without making the device too bulky or expensive. Such a circuit could then adopt the approach used in the Teramac, which has multiple connections between each element, so that a signal can reroute itself to avoid defects.
This is the latest attempt by scientists to find a way round the limitations of silicon as demand for massive computer power in small, reliable boxes escalates. Other laboratories are working on creating organic computers using biological materials.
The Teramac achieves the same level of reliability as a conventional PC using its defective chips, but would be too expensive and large to be commercially viable. But the same approach minituarised hundreds of times could allow for an even more complex set of multiple pathways, within a computer no larger than current laptops - raising hopes of a truly defect-proof machine that would be cheap to produce.
Much of the massive cost of manufacturing chips comes from the necessity to keep an entirely clean environment and to test each piece of silicon rigorously, wasting large numbers of imperfect devices. Defect tolerance would bring down the production costs because imperfections would be less significant.
However, according to another scientist on the project, Jim Heath of the University of California at Los Angeles, building a computer in a chemical laboratory is at least a decade away, but is now certainly feasible.
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