The Future of the Transistor; The Solid-State Century; Scientific American Presents; by Keyes; 7 Page(s)
I am writing this article on a computer that contains some 10 million transistors, an astounding number of manufactured items for one person to own. Yet they cost less than the hard disk, the keyboard, the display and the cabinet. Ten million staples, in contrast, would cost about as much as the entire computer. Transistors have become this cheap because during the past 40 years engineers have learned to etch ever more of them on a single wafer of silicon. The cost of a given manufacturing step can thus be spread over a growing number of units.
How much longer can this trend continue? Scholars and industry experts have declared many times in the past that some physical limit exists beyond which miniaturization could not go. An equal number of times they have been confounded by the facts. No such limit can be discerned in the quantity of transistors that can be fabricated on silicon, which has proceeded through eight orders of magnitude in the 50 years since the transistor was invented [see box on pages 50 and 51].