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Superconductor at room temps? Whats this mean for CPU'S?

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June 1, 2007 12:20:09 PM

OK, speculation time here, but Jack or sombody please start speculating, how will this effect cpu's, and comp tech if this becomes a financially doable deal? Heres the link http://www.hamiltonspectator.com/NASApp/cs/ContentServe... Ill be reading, and hopefully learning, and if this has been posted besides as news, sorry, didnt see it
June 1, 2007 5:05:40 PM

I think the prediction that we will have room temperature superconductors is a bit premature. Just because there is finally understanding as to how superconductors work, it doesn't mean that a room temperature superconductor even exists. Further, metallurgy/materials is a difficult field. Even if they know exactly what structures they want to create, they will still need to spend a lot of time and energy through trial and error in order to create the material they want.

We will be lucky if they find something within 20 years. Then it will be another 10+ years before it becomes a viable product. By then, data transfer via light will likely be a mature technology and much faster. This technology will likely not impact digital electronics, though it will likely have a huge impact on power related electronics.
June 1, 2007 8:04:55 PM

While this would help in a small way with the connecting wire for the processor, I don't think it would help much with the chip itself. I could be completely off base here , but it seems to me what makes the chip work is the simicondutor properties of the material.

The only way it would help is if they were able to combine both simiconductos transistors with superconducting material connecting them (Not sure this would help in the least), or if they were able to harness a priciple of physics not used in today's CPUs.

It seems to me a CPU made entirely of a superconductor is a wire. :wink:
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June 1, 2007 8:05:59 PM

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OK, speculation time here, but Jack or sombody please start speculating, how will this effect cpu's, and comp tech if this becomes a financially doable deal? Heres the link http://www.hamiltonspectator.com/NASApp/cs/ContentServe... Ill be reading, and hopefully learning, and if this has been posted besides as news, sorry, didnt see it

While this doesnt have the potential of say light replacing electic in CPU's it does come a very close second. When this is profected CPU's could easily be the size of the mobo and run 10's if not 100's of GHz.

The problem with making CPU's bigger is limited by how far a given voltage can travel and be read. With superconduction electric can travel much greater distances at much less voltage as almost no voltage is lost.
June 1, 2007 8:17:17 PM

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I think the prediction that we will have room temperature superconductors is a bit premature. Just because there is finally understanding as to how superconductors work, it doesn't mean that a room temperature superconductor even exists. Further, metallurgy/materials is a difficult field. Even if they know exactly what structures they want to create, they will still need to spend a lot of time and energy through trial and error in order to create the material they want.

We will be lucky if they find something within 20 years. Then it will be another 10+ years before it becomes a viable product. By then, data transfer via light will likely be a mature technology and much faster. This technology will likely not impact digital electronics, though it will likely have a huge impact on power related electronics.


From what I read on the current studies you are correct, they are proposing its possible but not when its possible to do so.

There are two points to my post, which it appears were lost in translation.

First, it isn't a certainty that a room temperature superconducting material even exists. The work mentioned in the article only illuminates the mechanism by which superconductors operate. The scientists' assertion that a room temperature superconductor, that doesn't require a magnetic field of some sort, will be found is premature. It isn't a certainty that a superconductor which is viable in (lower cost/lower space necessary) applications. It may be physically impossible for such a material to exist.

Second, it appears that a 10 year prediction was made by Taillefer. I think that is incredibly optimistic.

I did make the mistake of mixing the original poster's assertion regarding interconnects in with the articles conjectures as to the impact on computing. There is no doubt that a room temperature superconductor would be very valuable in quantum computing. In that way, it could impact digital electronics substantially.
June 1, 2007 8:19:33 PM

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It seems to me a CPU made entirely of a superconductor is a wire. :wink:


It isn't if the resistivity of the superconducting material is field controllable. However, it is more likely that this material would be used in quantum computing.
June 1, 2007 11:46:13 PM

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It isn't if the resistivity of the superconducting material is field controllable.
Interesting thought. I would like to hear more.

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However, it is more likely that this material would be used in quantum computing.
This is also interesting. However this goes to my point, that it would have to use physics not used in today's CPUs. I would like to hear your thoughts on the subject of using it in quantum computing. This could be a very interesting research project.
June 2, 2007 4:44:49 AM

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The problem with making CPU's bigger is limited by how far a given voltage can travel and be read. With superconduction electric can travel much greater distances at much less voltage as almost no voltage is lost.

Resistance, what superconductors eliminate, is not the limit in the distance for signals to travel and be read. The inductance and capacitance of the traces are more important at high frequency, as well as crosstalk between signals.
June 2, 2007 11:07:45 PM

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The problem with making CPU's bigger is limited by how far a given voltage can travel and be read. With superconduction electric can travel much greater distances at much less voltage as almost no voltage is lost.

Resistance, what superconductors eliminate, is not the limit in the distance for signals to travel and be read. The inductance and capacitance of the traces are more important at high frequency, as well as crosstalk between signals.
Not in its self but until you understand that at any process the needed voltage can become as nothing compared to whats used now. With lower voltage superconductive materials means less crosstalk and thus can travel greater distances. Now crosstalk only limits how close traces can be which is the worst cause of the bigger problem of leakage. Less loss due to less resistance mean the farther a signal will travel without change.

Now currently CPU's distance or density is a trade off to higher clocks. Now both density and higher clocks require more voltage which ups the heat. Intel, AMD, and IBM are looking for ways like hafnium silicates to cut the loss of voltage which causes the heat but will never total stop leakage. Copper used for traces and gates has been used for a long time as about the best cheap semiconductor.
http://domino.watson.ibm.com/library/CyberDig.nsf/398c9...

Superconductive materials resistance being much less than copper allows for the voltage drop which lowers the risk of both leakage and crosstalk. The distance traveled by lower amount of voltage can then be increased by greater density. Larger CPU's with thousands of cores running at 10's if not 100's of GHz.

You clearly did not understand what the reduced resistance allows for but maybe if you have taken time to reading this you should.
a b à CPUs
June 2, 2007 11:44:56 PM

For the ideal CPU you'd want a material that switched from a superconductor to a superinsulator simply by altering the voltage to the "gate". That's not going to happen, so it looks like we're stuck with semiconductors.
June 4, 2007 5:10:56 PM

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It isn't if the resistivity of the superconducting material is field controllable.
Interesting thought. I would like to hear more.

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However, it is more likely that this material would be used in quantum computing.
This is also interesting. However this goes to my point, that it would have to use physics not used in today's CPUs. I would like to hear your thoughts on the subject of using it in quantum computing. This could be a very interesting research project.

The mosfet, which is a basis of current digital computing stands for Metal Oxide Silicon Field Effect Transistor. From a very simplistic view, it operates upon the principle that there is a very high resistance between two of the terminals unless the proper voltage is applied to a third terminal, which reduces the resistance. This allows the input voltage on the third terminal, the gate, to control whether the voltage on terminal one, the source, is allowed to pass through to the second terminal, the drain.

If you have a superconductor that is has different resistance based upon an electrical field, then you have pretty much the same device and can completely design digital electronics using this material.


The reason that a superconductor could potentially be useful in quantum computing is related to the phenomenon that Jack mentioned with his YBCO. Superconductors have interesting magnetic properties and the basis of quantum computing is on electrons, which resemble little spinning magnets. I don't know the particulars of how such a device would work, but I'm guessing that current passed through the superconducting material could change the spin on electrons placed near it, and that same superconducting material can be used to detect the current spin of the electron. My knowledge is very shallow on the subject, so I will not conjecture any further.
June 4, 2007 5:37:00 PM

I would think that superconductors will benefit power transmission, battery and motor technologies more than CPU's.

I think CPU's will benefit more from light based IO's, RF shielding should be reduced and data transfers would increase.
June 4, 2007 6:11:09 PM

Interesting link. As for what room-temp superconductors would mean for CPU try Googling "josephson junction" - I seem to recall these things switch 1000-10000 faster than silicon. The real revolution if RTSC's ever appear would be a bit away from CPU's though.

Stuart
June 4, 2007 6:18:27 PM

Crashman - SC don't just work below a certain temp, there is a 'surface' you can plot on 3 axes, Current density, magnetic field density and temperature. Below this surface - superconducts, above no superconduction. Josephson Junctions work (a bit) like this by switching the superconduction on and off by modulating the magentic field density, or the current density, depends on how you look at the physics. Or, like me , don't look at the physics - it all gets a bit quantum.

Stuart
June 4, 2007 6:55:43 PM

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I think the prediction that we will have room temperature superconductors is a bit premature. Just because there is finally understanding as to how superconductors work, it doesn't mean that a room temperature superconductor even exists.


Actually, I think he is promising even less than that. What he actually claims to have discovered is a technique which he believes will allow better understanding of how superconductors work. That doesn't mean that we understand them today, just that we have an extra tool that will make such understanding easier. And if it was absolutely trivial, wouldn't he have announced 'and this is how they work...' rather than 'we have this tool...'? (Well, unless he needed to run two sets of press releases, to improve his chances of academic funding. Obviously.)

And then we have to proceed from that understanding to the formulation of one or more practical room temp materials... And then, given that these are likely to be quite obscure materials, there is a real issue about whether the new materials are compatible with the existing ones used for semiconductor fab, interconnect and packaging... Well, I'm not holding my breath (but then I already wasn't holding my breath about Barcelona details, so no change there...).
June 4, 2007 7:40:37 PM

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The mosfet, which is a basis of current digital computing stands for Metal Oxide Silicon Field Effect Transistor. From a very simplistic view, it operates upon the principle that there is a very high resistance between two of the terminals unless the proper voltage is applied to a third terminal, which reduces the resistance. This allows the input voltage on the third terminal, the gate, to control whether the voltage on terminal one, the source, is allowed to pass through to the second terminal, the drain.

If you have a superconductor that is has different resistance based upon an electrical field, then you have pretty much the same device and can completely design digital electronics using this material.




OK I see what you are getting at. It's still a transistor, just a different material. I was thinking maybe you were hinting at something more revolutionary. :)  (Not that it's not a huge leap mind you.)
June 4, 2007 8:29:14 PM

Two points, 1.) in general superconductors are superior thermal conductors as well (electron transfer), therefore using them for thermal transfer structures would make sense, and 2.) transistors are purely a semiconductor device, with superconductors one would use alternative switching structures, such as Josephson junctions.
June 4, 2007 8:52:32 PM

In the discussion of whether and how much RTS (Room Temp Superconductors) help CPUs, two things are getting confused: Using superconductors as interconnects and using some new principle to replace the transistor.

Regarding interconnects:

Elbert wrote:

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The problem with making CPU's bigger is limited by how far a given voltage can travel and be read. With superconduction electric can travel much greater distances at much less voltage as almost no voltage is lost.


I'm not sure whether you mean electricity, electrons or electric fields, but this is the 'power transmission' argument and almost entitrely irrelevant. The difficulty to which you refer is the difficulty of transmitting a signal or more likely several signals in synchronism across a chip. This difficulty is caused by all interconnects being transmission lines and not plain 'bits of wire' at sufficiently high frequencies, and it applies to all sorts of things from gate-to-gate interconnects all the way to USB cables.

Now, you may have noticed that something like a USB link is pretty slow, but can go quite a way without running out of electricity. This is because the fundametal trade-off is a speed versus distance one and you can get quite a distance if the link can be slow. So what signals have to be fast in your mobo-sized cpu? Well, if you want a CPU that big to have plenty of cores (and, errm, you have a decent interconnect-between-cpus bus, like, oh don't know, say, AMD), the interconnect between cpus doesn't have to have superconductivity to work - look at the 'big iron' Opteron servers, they achieve 'all the way across the mobo' distances today. (And given that someone will get annoyed with me if I mention AMD and I don't say Intel is wonderful too, I have to add 'and I'm sure Intel would have something comparable to HyperTransport, if they needed it for today's CPUs' :? )

There is obviously still the 'Cray love seat' problem when interfacing to main memory (or from the 'cores' to the memory controller), but that goes away for reasonable numbers of cores if you are prepared to spread the memory interfaces around the periphery. Looking at this memory-interface-to-n-cpu problem, you can easily convince yourself that 16 CPUs would be easy-ish, but, by the time you have go to 64, it has become a bit hard. (And I really wouldn't want to try it with 256+ cores, with today's technology, but I can see ways of pushing in that direction with relatively low gate counts per core.) But what is very obvious is that today people aren't building even the relatively easy 16 cores per slice parts, for other reasons.

So, what stops people building mega-big CPUs is the same thing that has always stopped people building mega-big CPUs. Cost of a mega-big piece of flawless silicon. (There is an argument about fault tolerance and being able to tolerate, say, n-1 out of n CPUs functioning on a slice of silicon - this is true, but essentially unaffected by the putative coming of RTS).

Now, given the transmission line nature of all high frequency interconnects, will superconductors enable much better (faster/lower loss) transmission lines to be made? Well, it is not clear that they will, although there might be an improvement. They can make the series resistance component go to zero, but given that the materials that make up the TL also determine the parallel capacitance element, there is a danger that changes in the dielectric constant and loss factor eat up any gains from the removal of the series resistive element.

So there is a danger that superconducting TLs are actually worse than current TLs, due to these other losses and characteristics and it won't be clearer until actual materials are proposed. And, anyway, that only gets the signals to the MOSFETs...they still have to switch, so to get an order of magnitude improvement, you'd still need roughly and order of magnitude improvement in the FETs that are to switch.

And it is the threshold of the FETs which is the prime determinant in setting the operating voltage levels of the technology. Whether you have superconducting interconnects or not, you still have to supply enough voltage to switch the FETs on and off. So superconducting interconnects aren't by themselves going to deliver order of magnitude lower operating voltages.

Elbert writes:
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Copper used for traces and gates has been used for a long time as about the best cheap semiconductor.


In case anyone is worried, copper hasn't suddenly become a semi-conductor, it is still a conductor.

The link that you present (hafnium paper) doesn't allow you to get the paper, but the title of the abstract tells its own story "The Anomalous Behavior of the Dielectric Constant of Hafnium Silicates: A First Principles Study". This is about dielectric properties and not conductors and so is interesting but not directly germane.

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Now crosstalk only limits how close traces can be which is the worst cause of the bigger problem of leakage.


Well, there are two types of crosstalk and it is not clear which one you are referring to, but neither cause leakage. True leakage is a static phenomenon and you measure it by disabling switching. Crosstalk is a dynamic phenomenon and only occurs when the dynamic signals are in play. The whole area of signal integrity is a difficult one and you need to be clear about which effect is which.

As for Josephson junctions and quantum computers, this is on the edge of massively weird technology compared to what we have today. JJs have been the next superfast thing for pretty much 40 years. They are still the next superfast thing, in some quarters. The quote (Stuart72):

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I seem to recall these things switch 1000-10000 faster than silicon
.

has been around for some time. Trouble is, 40 years ago, silicon switched 1000 times slower than today, so some of the advantage that JJs once would have theoretically had, has been eaten away by the year-on-year progress with more conventional technology.

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If you have a superconductor that is has different resistance based upon an electrical field, then you have pretty much the same device and can completely design digital electronics using this material.


While this is true, it is not clear that it will turn out to be an advantage. After all, you still have to make the mag field that turns on and off the superconductor (and that probably changes with temperature) so it could be that the problem suddenly becomes getting enough current to switch the superconductor on and off rather than enough voltage to switch the FET on and off. And if, in order to do that, with the values of magnetic field that are needed, you have to produce something like a micro-induction coil, the inductance of that arrangement will limit the rate of curent rise, and that will slow switching.

And if you contrive a structure that switches states at some very low field threshold, in order to circumvent this problem, then the field produced by the load current is in danger of switching the device, which is not generally what you want.
June 4, 2007 9:37:19 PM

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OK, speculation time here, but Jack or sombody please start speculating, how will this effect cpu's, and comp tech if this becomes a financially doable deal? Heres the link http://www.hamiltonspectator.com/NASApp/cs/ContentServe... Ill be reading, and hopefully learning, and if this has been posted besides as news, sorry, didnt see it


Superconductors are much different than semiconductors, it is difficult to say how superconductors will impact a computational digital circuit. I know work has been done on this because a professor in the department at UT was working on conductive organics and superconductors looking for ways to make a 'switch' (transistor like) entity.

A room temperature super conducting material is the holy grail of material science, instant Nobel prize work if it is ever demonstrated and reproduced. However, I am not well versed in the current literature on what is going on in this field so any speculation I might offer up would be way way off base.

I think quantum computing or nanotube transistors has a better shot of reaching commercial viability over anything from superconductors at the moment -- but that is just an opinion, as I said I am not up to speed on what is the latest in superconductors.

Side note -- I have made YBCO (yttrium barium copper oxide) pellets before as a test of tube furnace once, it was fun to play with to be sure. Type 1 superconductors (or is it type 2, not sure) have funny properties with magnets, and the watching a magnet levitate and spin above a pellet is somewhat mesmerizing.

Jack, Welcome back

The Meissner effect you talk about is in type 2 superconductors and is due to the lack of penetration of a magnetic field into the superconductor.

As for the effect of a room temp superconductor were one to be discovered the first applications would be in magnetics which of course translates to read/write drive heads for computers. I haven't ever heard if the work on creating a superconductor switch went anywhere but it still would be a long long way to a superconducting processor even if that were possible.
June 4, 2007 10:17:45 PM

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In the discussion of whether and how much RTS (Room Temp Superconductors) help CPUs, two things are getting confused: Using superconductors as interconnects and using some new principle to replace the transistor.

Regarding interconnects:

Only if you both leave out tunneling and the possiblity of superconductors being used as interconnects. The same thing was thought of using light. Many thought its impossible to store light. IBM is working on this problem and has showed how light can be slowed. Nothing and I mean nothing is outside the realm of possible.

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I'm not sure whether you mean electricity, electrons or electric fields, but this is the 'power transmission' argument and almost entitrely irrelevant. The difficulty to which you refer is the difficulty of transmitting a signal or more likely several signals in synchronism across a chip. This difficulty is caused by all interconnects being transmission lines and not plain 'bits of wire' at sufficiently high frequencies, and it applies to all sorts of things from gate-to-gate interconnects all the way to USB cables.

Now, you may have noticed that something like a USB link is pretty slow, but can go quite a way without running out of electricity. This is because the fundametal trade-off is a speed versus distance one and you can get quite a distance if the link can be slow. So what signals have to be fast in your mobo-sized cpu? Well, if you want a CPU that big to have plenty of cores (and, errm, you have a decent interconnect-between-cpus bus, like, oh don't know, say, AMD), the interconnect between cpus doesn't have to have superconductivity to work - look at the 'big iron' Opteron servers, they achieve 'all the way across the mobo' distances today. (And given that someone will get annoyed with me if I mention AMD and I don't say Intel is wonderful too, I have to add 'and I'm sure Intel would have something comparable to HyperTransport, if they needed it for today's CPUs' Confused )

I mostly stated voltage and at the voltage RS-232 compatible USB min being 3volts which would burn todays CPU. CPU interworkings travel much longer than any USB but use much less semiconductive material. Stretched out CPU's semiconductive would easly be many times the lenth of even the longest USB.
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There is obviously still the 'Cray love seat' problem when interfacing to main memory (or from the 'cores' to the memory controller), but that goes away for reasonable numbers of cores if you are prepared to spread the memory interfaces around the periphery. Looking at this memory-interface-to-n-cpu problem, you can easily convince yourself that 16 CPUs would be easy-ish, but, by the time you have go to 64, it has become a bit hard. (And I really wouldn't want to try it with 256+ cores, with today's technology, but I can see ways of pushing in that direction with relatively low gate counts per core.) But what is very obvious is that today people aren't building even the relatively easy 16 cores per slice parts, for other reasons.

I would guess with a superconductive advantages a great void of room for design would be left. Small thinking on your part but the memory at some point will go the way of the memory controller. LOL 256+ cores try the 1012 core CPU IBM already made.

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So, what stops people building mega-big CPUs is the same thing that has always stopped people building mega-big CPUs. Cost of a mega-big piece of flawless silicon. (There is an argument about fault tolerance and being able to tolerate, say, n-1 out of n CPUs functioning on a slice of silicon - this is true, but essentially unaffected by the putative coming of RTS).

Price is important and as more things move off the mobo and onto the CPU then CPU's can price wise get larger. How much do we spend of the GPU and memory? Plans are already under way for the GPU to go the way of the memory controller.
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Now, given the transmission line nature of all high frequency interconnects, will superconductors enable much better (faster/lower loss) transmission lines to be made? Well, it is not clear that they will, although there might be an improvement. They can make the series resistance component go to zero, but given that the materials that make up the TL also determine the parallel capacitance element, there is a danger that changes in the dielectric constant and loss factor eat up any gains from the removal of the series resistive element.

Look up tunneling.
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And it is the threshold of the FETs which is the prime determinant in setting the operating voltage levels of the technology. Whether you have superconducting interconnects or not, you still have to supply enough voltage to switch the FETs on and off. So superconducting interconnects aren't by themselves going to deliver order of magnitude lower operating voltages.

maybe as you dont leave and room for the FETs change.
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The link that you present (hafnium paper) doesn't allow you to get the paper, but the title of the abstract tells its own story "The Anomalous Behavior of the Dielectric Constant of Hafnium Silicates: A First Principles Study". This is about dielectric properties and not conductors and so is interesting but not directly germane.

Hafnium is the new way of stopping leakage and thus is germane. The IBM link is old and thus not the best link. Intel has demo a working protype using Hafnium which cuts voltage need due to cutting leakages. Superconductive materials is the holy grail of cutting voltage thus I stated this only in passing.

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Now crosstalk only limits how close traces can be which is the worst cause of the bigger problem of leakage.


Well, there are two types of crosstalk and it is not clear which one you are referring to, but neither cause leakage. True leakage is a static phenomenon and you measure it by disabling switching. Crosstalk is a dynamic phenomenon and only occurs when the dynamic signals are in play. The whole area of signal integrity is a difficult one and you need to be clear about which effect is which.

True but I didnt state crosstalk cause leakage. Leakage here is the cause were crosstalk is only the worst case symptom of the leakage. Again Hafnium is a means of cutting both which a supercondutive materials would erase the need. Well atleast until we hit the limit of superconductive materials.

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I seem to recall these things switch 1000-10000 faster than silicon
.

has been around for some time. Trouble is, 40 years ago, silicon switched 1000 times slower than today, so some of the advantage that JJs once would have theoretically had, has been eaten away by the year-on-year progress with more conventional technology.

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If you have a superconductor that is has different resistance based upon an electrical field, then you have pretty much the same device and can completely design digital electronics using this material.


While this is true, it is not clear that it will turn out to be an advantage. After all, you still have to make the mag field that turns on and off the superconductor (and that probably changes with temperature) so it could be that the problem suddenly becomes getting enough current to switch the superconductor on and off rather than enough voltage to switch the FET on and off. And if, in order to do that, with the values of magnetic field that are needed, you have to produce something like a micro-induction coil, the inductance of that arrangement will limit the rate of curent rise, and that will slow switching.

I didnt write this so please reply to who did.
June 5, 2007 2:39:12 AM

any heat generated due to res will be regained - its small i am sure.

i.e. take a capacitor it will not benefit only the wire leads

superconductors help things that loose lots of energy due to heat of resistance as there is no resistance - hence a superconductor

applications like maglev trains greatly benefit as the energy just circulates
June 5, 2007 3:23:58 AM

great post. I was getting tired of reading pseudo science, so your clarification was definitely refreshing.

As I understand it, a significant problem with cmos is current driving capability. This isn't a big deal for intra-chip, but definitely factors in for the pin drivers. If you go to BiCMOS, then you can use bipolar transistors for your pin drivers. I wonder whether a superconducting transistor might be somehow beneficial for that purpose over a bipolar one; e.g. if it reduces the real estate requirements, improves the switching speed, or reduces the heat produced, any of these might be a sufficient benefit to justify incorporating a working, commercially viable superconducting transistor into a CPU. Otherwise, short of some exotic new technology, I don't see the benefit.
June 5, 2007 6:40:06 PM

Well, even if we come up with a room temperature superconductor tomorrow, it'll be a long time before it comes up in any CPUs. The necessary manufacturing infrastructure and technology just doesn't exist, particularly if the superconductor ends up being another brittle ceramic or oxide like most other high-temperature superconductors have.

That's not to say there won't be an immediate or intermediary effect, of course. The cheaper electricity and more efficient engines resulting from superconductors are far simpler to apply with bleeding edge technology, and would result in many other artificial materials, most more proven than superconducting processors.

Thermal conductors such as diamond could be artificially produces quickly and cheaply enough to make them viable for computing use -- these materials can be electrically conductive, electrical insulators, or even n-type or p-type semi-conductors, all with know manufacturing methods, while also moving heat at nearly six times the rate.

A superconducting future's motherboards might come with diamond-sapphire CPUs and be submerged in pumped water to be cooled, long before we have superconducting transistors around.

The future is never simple to predict, and the smallest change can have the largest and most surprising result.
!