Next-Generation Computer Chip With Two Heads Combines Logic Operations and Data Storage

Next-generation computer chip with two heads EPFL engineers have developed a computer chip that combines two functions — logic operations and data storage — into a single architecture, paving the way to more efficient devices. Their technology is particularly promising for applications relying on artificial intelligence.
Credit: EPFL /LANES 2020

EPFL engineers have developed a computer chip that combines two functions — logic operations and data storage — into a single architecture, paving the way to more efficient devices.

It’s a major breakthrough in the field of electronics. Engineers at EPFL’s Laboratory of Nanoscale Electronics and Structures (LANES) have developed a next-generation circuit that allows for smaller, faster, and more energy-efficient devices – which would have major benefits for artificial-intelligence systems. Their revolutionary technology is the first to use a 2D material for what’s called a logic-in-memory architecture, or a single architecture that combines logic operations with a memory function. The research team’s findings were published on November 4, 2020, in Nature.

Until now, the energy efficiency of computer chips has been limited by the von Neumann architecture they currently use, where data processing and data storage take place in two separate units. That means data must constantly be transferred between the two units, using up a considerable amount of time and energy.

By combining the two units into a single structure, engineers can reduce these losses. That’s the idea behind the new chip developed at EPFL, although it goes one step beyond existing logic-in-memory devices. The EPFL chip is made from MoS2, which is a 2D material consisting of a single layer that’s only three atoms thick. It’s also an excellent semi-conductor. LANES engineers had already studied the specific properties of MoS2 a few years ago, finding that it is particularly well-suited to electronics applications. Now the team has taken that initial research further to create their next-generation technology.

The EPFL chip is based on floating-gate field-effect transistors (FGFETs). The advantage of these transistors is that they can hold electric charges for long periods; they are typically used in flash memory systems for cameras, smartphones and computers. The unique electrical proprieties of MoS2 make it particularly sensitive to charges stored in FGFETs, which is what enabled the LANES engineers to develop circuits that work as both memory storage units and programmable transistors. By using MoS2, they were able to incorporate numerous processing functions into a single circuit and then change them as desired.

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