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Without delving into exotica such as quantum and biological computing, Moore’s Law should continue for another 15 years.

By that time, though, transistors will be so small and tightly packed that they’ll consume huge amounts of electricity and require expensive cooling units, making them less useful for personal and mobile applications.

In particular, the power consumption problem (which is primarily an issue of leakage) could limit the processing power of laptops, smart phones and other battery-powered mobile devices upon which the industry’s technology scenarios depend. With the power-thrifty Dual Stress Liner (DSL) technology announced in December, Advanced Micro Devices and IBM have taken a big step toward ensuring that Moore’s Law applies to more than just the chips that run supercomputers.

By reducing the size of transistors and the silicon-covered spaces between them, fewer electrons leak away in transit when transistors are turned on. Because newer processors have far more transistors, though, this advantage is somewhat offset by the greater number of opportunities for leakage and the increase in static leakage, which is the power and heat drain that seeps away when all those transistors are turned off.

The DSL technology doesnt solve this problem, it simply bypasses it by using a method other than reducing feature size to improve speed.<?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office” /??>

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Like other “strained silicon” processes, DSL stretches and compresses different portions of the silicon to improve current flow.

The immediate payoff lies in performance, with both companies claiming a 24 percent boost in transistor speed compared with the 15 to 20 percent gains with Intel’s current strained-silicon technology

And both AMD and IMB claim they can achieve these results without consuming more power or raising the production costs.

As with any processor, boosts in transistor speed are considerably larger than the real-world performance improvements you can expect in your next computer. Yet, in cases in which speed is prioritized over power savings, AMD expects gains of up to 16 percent in computers running its new DSL AMD64 processors due this summer. Similarly, IBM should deliver Power-Architecture processors with equal gains around the same time. Sony and Toshiba also participated in the development of the technology and may use it in the upcoming CELL processor which is designed for consumer electronics products.

Like Intel’s strained silicon, which was introduced in 2003, DSL overcomes the challenge posed by the split personality of computer processors, which are a hodgepodge of negative and positive transistors.

Negative transistors perform better when stretched, as the elongation of the silicon orbitals tends to iron out energy variations that could slow the path of electrons.  Positive transistors work better when compressed. Until recently, it has been difficult to apply the two types of treatments without favoring one transistor type over the other.

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