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New generation of computers in sight

By Jean-Claude Elias - Sep 21,2017 - Last updated at Sep 21,2017

Fancy a laptop computer 20 times faster than the one you are using now? It may well be round the corner. We may soon see the light — literally!

Each technology has its limit. Year after year the industry keeps pushing it, improving on it, and then one day that limit is reached — new ways must be found.

Since 2006 Intel’s processors line up for small computers has been the Core i3, i5 and i7, from slowest (and least expensive) to fastest (most expensive). It is worth mentioning the company’s latest, most powerful addition, the i9 that was announced earlier this summer, though until now its not yet available for mobile devices.

There are several variations and speeds to choose from, for each of the models. Moreover, each of them has been significantly improved over the past decade. Essentially, however, it is more or less the same technology, based on Intel’s microarchitecture.

One of the breakthrough technologies that has been announced in the past but was never commercialised is the one based on superconductivity, whereby electronic components and elements offer no resistance at all, resulting in very high processing speeds, no overheating and very low power consumption.

Superconductivity is usually achieved in laboratory only, at extremely low temperature. Being able to perform the trick at room temperature has been repeatedly announced by researchers but has never materialised — at least not commercially, not on a wide scale.

Another, newer technology that apparently promises the same extraordinary result is that of the “photonic computer”. Instead of electricity, communication and data would be channelled along light paths (think of something similar to laser…), hence achieving unpresented speed and no significant heat production. A dream come true, in other words. The closest researchers have come to achieving this trick is in Australia, at University of Sydney.

Using photons, light’s main constituent, to carry and process information, instead of electricity travelling though copper cables, is nothing new, of course. One of the most obvious applications is Fibre Optic (FO) networking, the same that most Internet service providers in Jordan are now offering, replacing the traditional ADSL type over metal wires. FO is becoming the standard in Jordan, after winning over most industrialised countries in the world.

Photons, light and FO, they are all based on the same scientific concept and technology. Long before FO was implemented to bring you the Internet, it was already used in local computer networks, anytime long copper cabling was not possible. Indeed, IT engineers know well that you cannot have one stretch of copper cable longer than 100 metres in your local network. In all these cases FO has always brought the right solution.

When will the photonic computer be available for sale? University of Sydney’s scientists did not tell, and probably are unable to tell today. However, everything indicates that it may be less of a dream, more tangible than achieving superconductivity at room temperature. In other words it may be doable for the IT industry in the near future.

 

One question remains. Do we really need super-fast computers at home or at work? Most of us would rather have faster and more stable Internet, as well as safer computers. Still, extra speed would not hurt.

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Tuesday 17 October 2017

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