Editorial - The efficiency of miniaturisation|
Welcome to Visions 97. This year we decided to go
against the trend - no don't worry, the online version does
still exist - the trend we're talking about is miniaturisation.
As many things get smaller in our increasingly digital world,
Visions has got bigger. This year we have twenty pages of reports,
reviews and visions for you, our longest edition so far!
And yet throughout these twenty pages, one subject
comes up again and again - miniaturisation. For a mobile PC company,
you may not think that a surprise. After all, how are you going
to get the latest developments inside an A4 notebook if you don't
But look around. Small is popular everywhere. One
of the most widely-reported recent science news items was the
announcement that a team of scientists had finally created a laser
beam just one atom thick. Smaller is not possible. The fact that
this was done at a horribly cold temperature (around -250°C)
and that the "laser" was therefore more of a steady
"drip" than a power beam was irrelevant. Here is miniaturisation
at the limit.
The atom, once considered the smallest building block
on earth, is back in fashion. Science magazines are full of reports
on "nano-technology", a branch of science dedicated
to the investigation of controlling our world at the atomic level.
Nano-technologists dream of manufacturing using atomic components.
Their tools would be lathes and jigs just a few atoms thick.
In the medical world, the control and make up of
genes just a few hundred atoms long is considered vital to our
future understanding of the body and illnesses. Genetic engineering
aims to manufacture medicines and modify plants and perhaps even
animals in order to provide a batter healthier world.
Quite clearly smaller is sexier. The phrase "Bigger
is better" belongs to yesteryear. And nowhere is this more
evident than in computing and telecommunications - those companies
that trek to CeBIT every year. Challenged by a digital world that
offers ever bigger mountains of data to process and transmit,
the answer it seems is to miniaturise.
Whether it's hard disks packing more data per square
centimetre, DVDs with shorter lasers and tinier pits, or memory
chips with ever smaller gateways, the trend is clear: only miniaturisation
can master the data masses. And don't believe that appearances
mean anything either. When Toshiba expands from notebooks to desktops
for the first time in ten years, we haven't abandoned the small
is beautiful school of thought. Those desktops are full of miniaturised
Take the latest Intel Pentium processors as an example.
They are manufactured to a 0.35 micron process - meaning that
the halls and gangways for the flow of data are just 0.00035 mm
thick. Compare that with the Intel 4004 which used a 10 micron
process - 2857% thicker! Here at the heart of the modern computer
it is clear that miniaturisation is the key to progress.
Miniaturisation also gave the Pentium Pro 5.5 million
transistors, compared to the 2300 of the 4004. Miniaturisation
will also bring us the 256 Mbit memory chip in coming years and
predictions are that a 0.18 micron process will then lead the
But just as there is a limit to how big something
gets, there must be a limit to how small. If we carry on at the
same rate, the 1 gigabit chip may reach us in 2010. In the 21st
century the computing industry will need all the ingenuity of
Will memory chips require atom-sized gateways? Is
molecular manufacturing the goal for future processor processes?
Scientists believe these goals can be reached. So if next year
you think Visions has got rather small - don't worry we'll just
be back on trend again.