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The transistor is 60 years old

By Mauricio Freitas, in , posted: 11-Dec-2007 09:31

During the weekend I received an e-mail from Intel with some interesting tidbits about the Transistor (pictured, Wikipedia, GNU FDL), the building blocks of all sorts of electronic gadgetry.

Transistors are semiconductor devices, used as an amplifier or an electrically controlled switch, invented 60 years ago and some say it is the most important invention of the 20th century.

Transistors have found their way into many devices, but most importantly they are the building blocks of computer chips.

My Intel source tells that as transistors become smaller, we run against some fundamental problems: the smallest parts in a transistor today are only five atoms thick.

So here I list some of the facts:

- Intel’s first chip was the 4004 which came to the market in 1971 – about the same time as the Boeing 747 made its first flight from New York to London. Compared with the 4004, Intel’s new 45nm (nanometer) chips have seen a 200 time  improvement and have become 1.000 time more energy efficient.

- The original transistor built by Bell Labs in 1947 could be held in your hand, while hundreds of the new 45nm transistor can fit on the surface of a single red blood cell.

- The price of a transistor in one of Intel’s new next-generation processors -- codenamed Penryn -- is about 1 millionth the average price of a transistor in 1968.

- It is estimated that about 10,000,000,000,000,000,000 transistors are shipped each year.

- You could fit more than 2,000 45nm transistors across the width of a human hair.

- You could fit more than 30 million 45nm transistors onto the head of a pin, which measures approximately 1.5 million nm (1.5 mm) in diametre.

- A 45nm transistor can switch on and off approximately 300 billion times a second. A beam of light travels less than a tenth of an inch during the time it takes a 45nm transistor to switch on and off.

And here is a timeline:

 - 16 December 1947: William Shockley, John Bardeen and Walter Brattain successfully build the first transistor at Bell Labs.
 
- 1950: William Shockley develops the bipolar junction transistor, the device most commonly referred to as a transistor by today’s standard.

- 1953: The first commercial device to make use of the transistor is put on the market – the hearing aid. 

- 18 October 1954: The first transistor radio was put on the market and contained just four transistors.

- 1965: Moore’s Law is born when Intel’s Gordon Moore predicts that the number of transistors on a chip will double roughly every year (a decade later, revised to every 2 years) in the future, as stated in an article in Electronics Magazine.

- 1971: Intel launches its first microprocessor – the 4004. The 4004 was 1/8 of an inch by 1/16 of an inch, contained just more than 2,000 transistors and was manufactured with Intel’s 10micron PMOS technology.

- July 18 2006: The Dual-Core Intel Itanium 2 processor launches with the world’s most intricate product design to date, utilising more than 1.72 billion transistors.

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Mauricio Freitas
Wellington
New Zealand


I live in New Zealand and my interests include mobile devices, good books, movies and food of course! 

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