Will IoT force fundamental rethink of chip design?

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It seems that the Internet of Things could force chip makers like Intel to overhaul their chip-making techniques.

That is the conclusion of William Holt, who leads Intel's technology and manufacturing group. Because the chips for IoT devices will need to emphasize energy efficiency rather than speed, chip makers will need to come up with alternatives to silicon chips, Holt told the International Solid State Circuits Conference in San Francisco, as reported by Katherine Bourzac in an MIT Technology Review article.

"Particularly as we look at the Internet of things, the focus will move from speed improvements to dramatic reductions in power," Holt said. Alternatives being developed in the lab include tunneling transistors and spintronics, both of which use quantum mechanics.

Developed by the U.S. military and the Semiconductor Research Corp., tunneling transistors use quantum mechanical properties of electrons that degrade performance of silicon chips, particularly as they get smaller. They are far from commercialization, though, Holt explained.

Spintronics, which is closer to commercialization, represents digital bits by switching between two states encoded into quantum mechanical properties of particles, such as spin. Toshiba announced last year that it developed an experimental spintronic memory array that uses 80 percent less power than high-speed static random-access memory.

"The best pure technology improvements we can make will bring improvements in power consumption but will reduce speed," said Holt.

Such technological changes will force major manufacturing changes at chip makers like Intel. Whether these companies are willing to invest the big money it would take to make these changes remains to be seen. - Fred, @FierceFred1

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