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Faster computers will make the world a peta place

Drew Turney | Feb. 4, 2013
Computers thousands of times faster than the one you're reading this on? It's only a matter time.

Computers thousands of times faster than the ones we have now? Who wouldn't want that?


Scientists at Georgia State University in the US and Max Planck Institute for Quantum Optics in Germany have come up with a new process for the "on/off" state that forms the basis of electronic computing. Using insulators called dielectrics, scientists discovered they could process signals in the breakneck femtosecond range – way beyond today's supercomputers. Where current computers operate around 3 gigahertz - or 3 billion cycles per second, dielectrics open up the possibility of operating in the petahertz range, which would allow for 1,000,000 billion cycles per second or more.


But before you get your stockbroker on the phone, the experiments were conducted with mere chip components, not a complete chip or working processor.


"There's quite a gap between observing an effect and its implementation in a computer," says postdoctoral researcher Nicholas Karpowicz, who worked on the project at the Max Planck Institute. "In the near term we have to do much more."


John Gustafson, chief product architect at chip manufacturer AMD, points out that a computer is only as fast as its slowest part. "If you make every transistor 'infinitely' fast it'd still be so limited by the speed of its wires you'd only see a few per cent increase in performance," he says.


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