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MIT researchers have devised a graphene signal multiplier that produces a clean signal with low power

The computer industry is involved in a never-ending quest for the highest possible performance from computer components and other electrical devices. Over the years, there have been many advances that have boosted the computational power of computer systems from increasing the number of transistors to adding multiple processing cores.

Researchers across the world are hard at work on building microprocessors and other electrical components using a material discovered in 2004 called graphene. A group of researchers at MIT announced on March 19 that new findings made could lead to much faster microprocessors in the future. The new findings could lead to cell phones and other communications equipment that can transmit data much faster than devices available today.

The researchers at MIT have built an experimental frequency multiplier made from graphene. The multiplier is capable of taking an incoming electronic signal at a specific frequency and producing an output signal that it a multiple of the original frequency. One example of a use for the graphene frequency multiplier is inside a microprocessor to determine the clock speed of a CPU.

Frequency multipliers are used widely today according to MIT, but the difference between the multipliers we have today and the graphene multiplier is one of signal noise. Today's multipliers produce noisy signals that require filtration and consume lots of power. The new graphene frequency multiplier consists of a single transistor and produces a clean output signal in a highly efficient manner.

MIT assistant professor in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science Tomas Palacios said in a statement, "In electronics, we're always trying to increase the frequency. It's very difficult to generate high frequencies above 4 or 5 gigahertz."

Palacios says that the graphene multiplier could lead to systems capable of operating in the 500 to 1,000 GHz range.

Palacios continued saying, "Researchers have been trying to find uses for this material since its discovery in 2004. I believe this application will have tremendous implications in high-frequency communications and electronics."

The graphene multiplier is still at the laboratory stage but the researchers believe that practical working systems using the graphene technology could be available in one to two years. The findings are being reported in a paper to be published in the May issue of Electron Device Letters.

The MIT researcher's multiplier is far from the only graphene device being tested in labs around the world. A group of researchers from Rice University created a new type of memory from graphene in December of 2008. The discovery could lead to graphene storage arrays in the future.

One of the key findings that may help push research into graphene based electronic devices was a discovery made in January 2009 by a group of researchers from the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. The researchers discovered an easy way to control whether graphene is a semiconductor or a metal. Graphene in pure semiconductor form is required for use in computer processors and other components. The researchers explain that even a tiny section of graphene in metallic state along with mostly semiconducting graphene will destroy the semi-conductive properties of the graphene sheet.

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By Oregonian2 on 3/24/2009 12:33:13 PM , Rating: 4
I think the basis of the article is funny. I don't think the fundamental limiting problem in CPU design is the ability to make a PLL with a suitably high output frequency. Don't think that's anywhere near the biggest problem.

If they were able to make a baseball bat that wouldn't break even if it were used to hit a baseball 100 Miles, would major league players start hitting them that far?

RE: Odd
By Alphafox78 on 3/24/2009 12:36:17 PM , Rating: 3

RE: Odd
By JasonMick on 3/24/2009 1:35:25 PM , Rating: 2
But only if they took received their pre-workout "flaxseed cream" rubdown.

RE: Odd
By paydirt on 3/26/2009 10:48:06 AM , Rating: 2
:) most computers still have much more processor power than most folks need.

It would be cool to get more power for scientific purposes such as computational biology.

RE: Odd
By hlper on 3/24/2009 1:18:55 PM , Rating: 5
If they were able to make a baseball bat that wouldn't break even if it were used to hit a baseball 100 Miles, would major league players start hitting them that far?

If we start making next generation steroids from graphene, then yes ;-)

RE: Odd
By bighairycamel on 3/24/2009 3:46:51 PM , Rating: 2
Yah I agree.

One major underlying problem with a digital signal is skew rate. A digital signal doesn't instantaneously switch from low to high or vice versa, even in a single transistor. It has a finite time it takes to "ramp" up to the necessary voltage. I think now a CPU reads 1.2V or higher as a binary 1 (correct me if I'm wrong) and 285mV or lower as a 0 (again, may not be up to date). At 1000GHz a single bit probably wouldn't reach 1.2V before the next one has been received.

RE: Odd
By wifiwolf on 3/24/2009 10:12:10 PM , Rating: 4
I agree with you 2 but you're not seeing all the variables.
Some time ago we used 0v to 5v to signal '0' and '1'.
Now it's narrowed.
I'm sure we can narrow it much more when we get to need it.
There is a Vdd and vcc that are always comming down, so less power is being used each iteratiion we get on the cpu and other electronic components. That is what get as climbing. That's what happens when we shrink the processors each generation. There is less space in their gaps, so less time needed for propagation, less power and better skew rate since less voltage to climb and fall.
Evolution always happened like this, as you may notice, some advances are jsut not in the right time, but when we need it it's already mature enough to be used. Just look around and you'll see it happen everywhere in any dimensions you may think of.
Sorry for my english, I'm Portuguese.

RE: Odd
By zshift on 3/25/2009 10:04:14 AM , Rating: 2
very good point.
btw, your english was actually very well written, I would never have noticed that you weren't a native english speaker if you hadn't said so yourself.

still, even if it's not the most important factor in processor speed, it's still great know that some of the pieces we need to increase the processor speed are close to being fully developed and ready for commercial use.

RE: Odd
By TheBaker on 3/25/2009 4:18:25 AM , Rating: 5
"If they were able to make a baseball bat that wouldn't break even if it were used to hit a baseball 100 Miles, would major league players start hitting them that far? "

You're right in saying creating a high enough output frequency isn't the problem. Right now the limiting factor for CPU speed is heat. The heat is generated because of the amount of power required to filter out the signal noise mentioned when high multipliers are used. This material eliminates that problem.

So, to use your analogy, the baseball players can already hit a baseball 100 miles, but every time they try, the bat breaks. If you give them a better bat, then yes, they would start hitting them 100 miles.

This new graphene part is that bat.

RE: Odd
By MrPoletski on 3/25/2009 6:41:29 AM , Rating: 2
It's also very low power.

Were power consumption and the clock speed wall not something that stood in the way of the P4?

Consumed too much power because you need more to get the steady clock signal and hence produced too much heat.

"I f***ing cannot play Halo 2 multiplayer. I cannot do it." -- Bungie Technical Lead Chris Butcher
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