Magnetic Superchips
Magnetic dots on the superchip, ten billion could fit on a single microchip

By BBC News Online science editor Dr David Whitehouse

Scientists at Cambridge University say they have developed a new generation of magnetic microchips that may herald the beginning of faster, more efficient computers and electronic devices.

Researchers say that the chip stores data in the form of tiny magnetic fields and that versions of the chip currently being tested are up to 40,000 times more efficient than the electronic chips in use today.

Dr Russell Cowburn said the chips, which he and colleague Professor Mark Welland have developed at the University's Department of Engineering, were likely to revolutionise the manufacture of microchips.

In a paper published in the journal Science, Dr Cowburn describes the advantages the new chip has over existing technology.

"There are two big differences between our chips and others. The first is size: most existing electronic chips can fit up to 6.6 million transistors (the basic building blocks of all microchips) into one square centimetre.

"But we have demonstrated a device that can fit 5,500 million transistors into a similar area. We estimate in future years this could increase to 250,000 million transistors."

"The other big advantage is energy consumption. Electronic chips use up energy during operation, whereas a magnet does not."

"That means computers developed using magnetic microchips will need much less power to work. The days of carrying around heavy batteries for laptop computers and mobile phones are numbered!"

Professor Welland added that it would be several years before the new technology could be developed commercially, but he said a completely new type of computer would be made using this method.