Every few years scientists and manufacturers from all over the globe draw up what is now called the International Technology Roadmap for Semiconductors, an assessment of semiconductor technology requirements and research goals over the next 15 years. Ironically, one of the biggest challenges the industry faces is traffic congestion on and between the chips themselves.
Thanks to ever shrinking transistors on integrated circuits (ICs), computers have become quicker and more powerful. But as faster and smaller transistors are packed onto a microchip, the layers of wires that connect the transistors must shrink as well. The problem, though, is that the smaller the cross section of a wire, the tougher it is to push an electrical signal through. Capacitance between extremely thin wires can add to the trouble. "The transistors are getting faster, but the wires are getting slower--and that's a prescription for disaster," says Kevin Martin of the Georgia Institute of Technology, who helps to direct the Interconnect Focus Center, an entity created to avert that disaster. Based at Georgia Tech, the center encompasses research at five other universities and is part of the larger Technology Focus Center research program, launched in 1998 with $10 million annual funding per center from the Semiconductor Industry Association's member companies and other groups.
This article was originally published with the title Wired for Speed.