Intel insists it's on track to ship 10-nanometer processors in volume by the end of next year, but what could be even more exciting is what lies beyond the confines of CMOS (complementary metal-oxide-semiconductor) technology. In a newly published research paper in Nature, researchers from Intel, the University of California Berkeley, and the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory describe a magneto-electric spin-orbit (MESO) logic device, invented by Intel.
MESO could be the thing that replaces CMOS some day. According to Intel, MESO devices can potentially lower voltage requirements five-fold and reduce energy requirements by 10-30 times when combined with ultra-low sleep state power, compared to today's CMOS solutions. That's in part thanks to the use of quantum materials.
"We are looking for revolutionary, not evolutionary, approaches for computing in the beyond-CMOS era. MESO is built around low-voltage interconnects and low-voltage magneto-electrics. It brings together quantum materials innovation with computing. We are excited about the progress we have made and are looking forward to future demonstrations of reducing the switching voltage even further toward its potential," said Ian Young, Intel Senior Fellow and director of the Exploratory Integrated Circuits group in the Technology and Manufacturing Group.
When you start diving into the topic of quantum computers, one of the challenges is keeping things chilly—quantum computers have to be kept near absolute zero temperatures. That means 0 Kelvin, or -273.15 Celsius (-459.67 Fahrenheit). Otherwise, tiny errors in voltages can occur, causing a qubit to incorrectly switch between quantum states. James Wall, founder of Quantum Authority, posted a pretty good explainer in plain English on Medium, if you want some further reading on the subject.
Interestingly (and importantly), Intel invented its MESO device with the memory, interconnect, and logic requirements of future computing needs in mind, without the need for ultra-chilly temps.
"MESO is a device built with room temperature quantum materials," said Sasikanth Manipatruni, senior staff scientist and director of Intel Science and Technology Center on Functional Electronics Integration and Manufacturing. "It is an example of what is possible, and hopefully triggers innovation across industry, academia and the national labs. A number of critical materials and techniques are yet to be developed to allow the new type of computing devices and architectures."
Image Source: UC Berkely
Transistor technology has been around for some 70 years and is still used today. They move electrons around inside a semiconductor and store them as binary bits 0 and 1. In the new MESO device, binary bits are the up-and-down magnetic spin states in a multiferroic, a material that was created in 2001 by Ramamoorthy Ramesh, a UC Berkeley professor and senior author of the paper, UC Berkeley explains.
"The discovery was that there are materials where you can apply a voltage and change the magnetic order of the multiferroic," said Ramesh, "But to me, ‘What would we do with these multiferroics?’ was always a big question. MESO bridges that gap and provides one pathway for computing to evolve."
No small deal, the need for more energy efficient computers is critical to the continued expansion of computing, especially with the Internet-of-Things (IoT) category growing so rapidly. As far as Intel and its fellow researchers are UC Berkeley are concerned, MESO is the answer.