Future Computers Could Use 1 Million Times Less Energy, Researchers Say

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Emerging computer technology that would use magnetic microprocessors instead of silicon-based chips has the potential to consume 1 million times less energy per operation than existing computers, according to an analysis by University of California, Berkeley researchers.

Unlike existing microprocessor technology, which relies on electric currents that generate enormous amounts of wasted heat, the new technology, currently under development, would instead use closely packed magnetic chips to store and process information that would not require any moving electrons, the researchers say.

According to their paper, published in the journal Physical Review Letters, such microprocessor chips have the potential to dissipate only 18 millielectron volts of energy per operation at room temperature — or the minimum allowed by the second law of thermodynamics, known as the Landauer limit.

“Even if we could get within one order of magnitude, a factor of 10, of the Landauer limit, it would represent a huge reduction in energy consumption for electronics,” said Jeffrey Bokor, a UC Berkeley professor and codirector of the Center for Energy Efficient Electronics Science, which is trying to develop magnetic computers.

Article appearing courtesy Yale Environment 360.

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Yale Environment 360 is an online magazine offering opinion, analysis, reporting and debate on global environmental issues. We feature original articles by scientists, journalists, environmentalists, academics, policy makers, and business people, as well as multimedia content and a daily digest of major environmental news. Yale Environment 360 is published by the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies and Yale University. We are funded in part by the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation and by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. The opinions and views expressed in Yale Environment 360 are those of the authors and not of the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies or of Yale University.