IBM has received a contract option worth $6.4 million under a DARPA program known as “Steep-subthreshold-slope Transistors for Electronics with Extremely-low Power (STEEP).” The end goal being to develop transistor technology that allows manufacturers to design logic circuits requiring much less power than current technologies.
For the non-electrical engineering readers, traditional silicon transistor technology is based upon the concept of thermionic switching. This is essentially the process of swinging the voltage across a transistor to switch the state from on to off [and vice versa]. Typically, the power required to do so is on the order of 150-200 mV for high performance devices.
Why do we [HPC] care? The microprocessors that we all currently have churning away on our codes have millions of these transistors, each requiring its 200mV to flip a bit. The potential new method for transistor switching could save us a hefty chunk of cash on our facility power bills. Furthermore, the ever-increasing transistor density of modern microprocessors certainly isn’t doing much for the heat argument. Short of scheduling marsh-mellow roasts at the rear of our machine, I would personally rather run much cooler.
This technology is a long way out, but keep an eye out for more interesting developments. In the mean time, read the whole article here.