updated 1/17/2007 7:00:13 PM ET 2007-01-18T00:00:13

Hewlett-Packard Co. researchers say their integration of nanotechnology with traditional circuitry designs in computer chips could help reduce energy use and produce ever-smaller devices.

Although the development may seem esoteric, scientists believe it could eventually help a wide range of companies — such as automakers, cell phone manufacturers and toy makers — build vastly smaller products that can be reprogrammed and upgraded at any time.

For example, HP could use the technology to add more memory at a lower cost to the tiny chips inside the nozzles of inkjet cartridges, said Stan Williams, an HP senior fellow and co-author of the research published Tuesday in the journal Nanotechnology.

Computer chip makers are furiously competing to shrink the size of the electronics on their chips while simultaneously demanding higher processing output and lower energy consumption.

So far, advances in chip making usually have followed Moore's Law, the 1965 prediction by Intel Corp. co-founder Gordon Moore that the number of transistors on an integrated circuit would double about every two years to create increasingly powerful chips.

But Williams and his colleague Greg Snider, a senior architect at HP Labs, argue the pace is unsustainable because of excessive heating and operational defects that occur at the nanoscale — when technology gets so small its dimensions are measured in nanometers, or billionths of a meter.

The researchers may have found a way around that. They say their innovation lies in packing transistors tighter together on a chip, rather than the traditional method of shrinking the transistors themselves to fit more onto a single piece of silicon.

The research has initially focused on improving a category of chips called FPGAs, or field programmable gate arrays, which are costly to make but can be programmed by electronics makers and reprogrammed at any time, even after the product's sold.

HP said current chip-making plants would need only minor modifications to accommodate the new technology.

Williams and Snider said they have boosted transistor density by eight times while reducing power consumption.

Outside nanotech researchers hailed the research.

"This holds the promise to make computers much smaller and potentially much lower-power," said James Ellenbogen, senior principal scientist in the Nanosystems Group at the MITRE Corp. "Therefore, there is the potential to see more computation built into everything."

The research was conducted using modeling and simulation, but HP said a laboratory prototype could be ready within the year. A production-quality chip could be available by 2010.

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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