Microprocessors that use carbon nanotubes rather than copper wires to connect layers of transistors may be available in less than a decade, according to Fujitsu Siemens.
Joseph Reger, the chief technology officer of Fujitsu Siemens, said in a press conference in Hannover at CeBIT on Thursday that his company has already developed a prototype of carbon nanotube technology and is now researching how to make it on a commercial scale. "It is at least six or seven years from production," said Reger.
Reger explained that this technology is needed to enable the development of ever more powerful microprocessors.
"The first microprocessor of the world was made by Intel in 1971 and contained just a few thousand [transistors]... today's chips contain around 200 million transistors — transistors have been shrinking incredibly," said Reger. "10 years from now we will need this technology [to allow transistors to keep shrinking]," said Reger.
If the transistors within a microprocessor are below a certain size, copper wires cannot be used to connect the layers of transistors as the electrical currents running through the wires will interfere with the signals on adjacent lines. "Copper wires don't work if you shrink microprocessors to scale of 40nm — you get electronic radiation," said Reger.
With carbon nanotubes there is much less risk of interference. "Nanotubes can pump 1,000 times more power [than copper wires] without radiating," said Reger.
Nanotechnology can also be used in other areas of technology, such as networking and storage.
Networks that are composed of optical fibres are often switched by converting the optical signal to an electrical signal, then converting it back to an optical signal. Fujitsu has developed a mirror-based optical switch technology in its labs that involves "an array of mirrors on a nanoscale", according to Reger. He hopes that this technology may soon be available. "It's not quite a product, but is very close to the product phase," said Reger.
In the storage area, Reger spoke positively about IBM's millipede technology, which allows more data to be stored in a certain surface area by writing data to the disk mechanically, rather than electronically.
Carbon nanotechechnology isn't without controversy, though. Just this week Gordon Moore, the co-founder of Intel who predicted that twice as many transistors would be squeezed onto a chip every 24 months, warned that replacing silicon would be a very difficult task.
"I will admit to being a sceptic to these things for replacing digital silicon," Moore told a gathering of reporters in San Francisco on Wednesday.
For a look at the fun side of CeBIT, check out our CeBIT Digital Living special. Or visit ZDNet UK's CeBIT Toolkit for more enterprise technology stories and pictures from the show floor.