Latest chips out of the gate from Intel use a 65nm process. The pathways on the chips are just 0.00000065 of a metre across, which is really, really small, not far off the basic scale of ordinary matter. Yet they’re doing it with industrial-age tools that fall far short of atomic-scale precision, masks and lithographics and acid washes and electron beams and x-rays that need a lot of hotrodding just to fool them into functioning.
Just three years ago 130nm was incredible enough, with 90 playing really hard-to-get. Yet this isn’t ‘nanotech’; under Foresight‘s definition nanotech refers to the precision of the engineering rather than the scale of the components. So this process is still microtechnology, hacking away at clumps of matter until you’re left with something small, rather than the dream of molecular nanotechnology, building things atom by atom from the bottom up. But still… what an achievement modern chip production is.
Just think what this kind of engineering needs. Sixty-five nanometres! Silicon’s a fairly fat atom, so that means the chip pathways are only about three hundred atoms wide. If you could walk down one of those pathways, the ground would be bumpy, and each bump would be an atom. Our analog macroscale world and the fine-grained world of the atomic scale are moving closer all the time.
And best of all, this technology’s not rarified: it’ll be in our desktops by summer. That’s when great technology really deserves the name: when it becomes something everybody can use. Am I the only one who still gets a thrill when he switches on his PC?