From Micro to Megachips
The world is home to lots of valuable stuff. But in 2022 the technology that powers most of this valuable stuff is where the real value lies. Microchips have been omnipresent in the news as of late. The most notable headline was the passage of the CHIPS Act, designed to stimulate US domestic microchip production. Currently, America imports many high-tech chips which have proven tricky when supply chains falter and shortages become more commonplace. Meanwhile, supply chain issues or not, the demand for chips is exploding. This in turn places pressure on engineers.
We all want our devices faster and better. Yet, the chip industry is confronting challenges in getting more out of the same size chips. Currently, most chips measure the size of a quarter or a dime. To increase performance, engineers are jamming chips closer and closer together. The jamming effect is now prompting some to argue – instead of jamming microchips, why not create megachips?
The megachip is not an impossibly large snack. Rather, megachips are the natural result of our demand as consumers for increased power. For example, the Sony Playstation or Microsoft Xbox have megachips the size of playing cards or even a dinner plate. This might sound untenable, but engineers argue this trend in bigger is following something known as Moore’s Law. Intel founder, Gordon Moore, noticed early on that every couple of years consumers began to expect more and more transistors (computing power once it’s broken down). Megachips are simply a response to this demand with Mac Studio computers boasting an inconceivable 114 billion transistors.
In everyday devices, chips receive and transmit radio waves. The new packaging of megachips, however, is akin to putting all these chips receiving and transmitting radio waves under one, condensed roof. Think of a skyscraper, where the floors are chips, and they’re stacked upon each other. A microchip on its own renders a third of its area to the circuits that communicate to the rest of the operating device. When you stack chips the communication is close and nearly instantaneous. It’s faster to travel by elevator than walking between floors.
Microchips were invented in the US. In fact, nearly 40% at one point were manufactured Stateside. Should the CHIPS Act reinvigorate domestic chip manufacturers, look for megachips to continue their expansion. Machine learning systems along with artificial intelligence are just two areas experts point to that will fuel demand for megachips moving forward. Cerebras is a start-up that has successfully created a chip the size of a silicon wafer with dozens of additional chips etched upon it. Others are experimenting in ways where smaller chips can be connected to larger megachips to power computers that are flexible.
Regulatory moves that either prohibit or incentivize production make and break industries. For now, domestic chipmakers are pleased and we’ll see where this megachip movement takes us.