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Electronics without silicon. As the microelectronics industry makes smaller and smaller transistors, a handful of researchers are looking beyond silicon to find a better semiconductor. At this year’s Intel Developer Forum, the company announced the results of their work on an indium-antimonide transistor that operates 1.5 times faster than a silicon transistor. And more recently, at the International Electron Device meeting, MIT researchers showed that an indium-gallium-arsenide transistor, created the same size as today’s state-of-the-art silicon devices, runs 2.5 times faster.

Flash memory. The iPod Nano, which uses flash memory to hold thousands of songs, effectively thrust solid-state storage into mainstream cool. Providing an alternative to magnetic, spinning hard drives, solid-state storage uses transistors and chips to hold data, making it smaller and sturdier. Companies such as Intel, Freescale Semiconductor, and Samsung have invested millions in flash-memory fabrication technology and are constantly looking for ways to increase storage density while shrinking chip size. Freescale is looking at nanocrystals as a way to pack more data-saving transistors on a chip, and Samsung is stacking layers of silicon to boost capacity. The applications extend beyond smaller MP3 players, however. Samsung is looking for ways to make flash hard drives for laptops affordable. And flash drives that plug into the USB ports can now hold your computer’s operating system, applications, and files, so you can take your desktop to computers at your friend’s house, a colleague’s office, or an Internet café.

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Credit: Michael Thompson, Cornell University

Tagged: Computing

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