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Intel chips nearly size of ant's brain

Next step, honey bees - skip wasps
Sun Sep 16 2001, 17:56
THIS TIME next year, engineers and designers of Intel and other microprocessors will have pushed the so-called "brain" of a computer to speeds of 3GHz and their roadmaps will show speeds edging 4GHz and above for 2003, just like they promised.

Analogies between computers and "brains" only go so far.

Three years ago I met a senior Intel designer who told me that by the year 2010, microprocessor engineers might manage to compress enough transistors into a packaged chip to equal the numbers of logical circuits of a bee family member, the bumblebee.

These insects characteristically live in small hives, started and organised by a queen and they collect pollen and nectar which they store in honeypots which help to ensure there's a next generation.

Unlike wasps, they don't spend most of summer killing other insects and delivering meat back to their grubs (maggots), but get their kicks direct in the form of nectar.

I was quite impressed. If the chip engineers can deliver that number of circuits in a small microchip and link them together, perhaps the tiny network can come up with something sweet and nice.

Unfortunately, it's all very well having the wiring right, but coming up with the "big idea" isn't really down to the chip designers but to software engineers. It doesn't really matter how many circuits are available for the software guys to use, unless they come up with a creative idea, it's just a waste of transistors.

Most of the software we're using today refines yesterday's ideas, whether it's a word processor, accounting software, a database, sound and vision combined or a spreadsheet. It's 20 years since the software engineers decided that integrating all these functions together would be a good idea, but no version of Microsoft Office really does a satisfactory job of that and that's probably because no-one really wants to do all of these different jobs at once.

Is it really just enough to change the look and the colours of the operating system and software that runs them for Windows and Office 2003 to be winners?

The 2.2GHz, the 2.4GHz and the 3.5GHz and 4GHz Pentium 4s are still waiting for this "killer application" and if it hasn't been invented yet, then that means the PC industry is waiting for some genius - spare us the visionary tag - who looks at the problem in an entirely different way to come along and catch the No. 533 bus and just tell us...

Either that, or else we're doomed to more "eye candy" from the Microsoft honey dispensers. µ


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