Computers are the most obvious technology applications in our modern society. Deep within the innards of every personal computer exists a processor. This little example of technology is the focus of much cutting edge research but few computer users have more than a vague concept of the designing, manufacturing and software engineering technology that bought that processor to the performance level.
In the esoteric world of supercomputing a single CPU core will be a small part of a large array of devices delivering the massive computing power available from a supercomputer. Dozens or even hundreds of individual units work together to complete millions of calculations per second. The technology involved in designing and manufacturing the specialized computing units is truly advanced.
At the lower end of the microprocessor spectrum, consumer products are the most widespread applications of computing technology. Without basic microprocessors our cars would not run, our phones would not function and our armies would be lost and virtually weaponless. No person in the developed countries of the world can avoid interacting with some form of processor every day.
The design of microprocessors has approached the physical limits of compactness with density of components limited by the wavelength of the light used to transfer the etching mask onto the chip substrate. High performance processors require electrical currents that contribute to a major increase in temperature. The ability to effectively remove this heat is a factor in physical design and processing speeds. Higher speeds create a greater heat load. Advanced heatsink designs and liquid cooling are often used to allow high speed performance.
Microprocessors require designed-in micro-code to perform operations. Very few people realize (and fewer still even care) that the basic processing capabilities are based on electronic circuits physically present on the tiny silicone wafers. At the hardware level all of a device's functions are "hardwired" into the micro-code segment of the unit's physical design.
The technology of consumer product processing units is well established and electronics are extremely reliable. The technology that powers our daily lives is virtually invisible and seamlessly integrated with our activities. Processing speed for computers continues to increase. The downside is that as processors get better, applications evolve to require the better CPUs to function.
The widespread involvement in gaming has been a major factor in the evolution of processing components. Video adapters include special processing units to deliver the demanding graphics gamers expect.
Advances in processor design and manufacture will likely slow down until the next new technology breakthrough. Scientists are studying quantum computing and spintronics as the next big thing. Organic/biological computing is just peeking over the technology horizon. The next big advance will make today's technology look archaic.
Andrew Johnson is an expert in electronic products. If you want more information about varieties of processors
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