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Moore’s Law holds true, networking chip technology continues to improve

Throughout history, efforts to improve technology have all had similar goals – namely to enable tasks to be completed faster and with greater efficiency than ever before.

When the internet first came to be, one could begin the login process, go out to run a few errands, and come back only to hear that dial-up modem still working to make a connection. Once you were online, websites looked like what today would be equated to archaic paintings on a cave wall.

But, we've come a long way since then. Where we are today is in no small part due to the power of networking chips. They are essentially the fuel that powers the internet engine. In 1965, Intel's Gordon Moore made a prediction, which has since become known as Moore's Law, that the number of transistors in networking chips will double every two years. Nearly half a century later, that law remains unbroken.

A recent VentureBeat article discusses Moore's Law and Andy Bechtolsheim's assertion that it will continue to prove accurate in the coming decades. Bechtolsheim, founder, chairman and chief development officer at Arista Networks, predicted that networking chip performance will increase by 1,000 times in the next 20 years.

"Architecture matters. Having a faster internal engine makes a car run faster. That’s also true for a chip," writes Dean Takahashi, author of the article, about Bechtolsheim's reasoning. "With better design at the component level, the overall chip and system run better. This requires rethinking approaches that worked in the past for a more modern technology. Keeping the data flowing within the chip is critical."

At the same time networking and other computer chips are rapidly improving, there is an increased focus on making them smaller. As a result, the demand for innovative thermal management technologies is rising and must keep pace with the consumer electronics industry.

Creating better chips that will actually find their way into real-world products ultimately comes down to our ability to handle the increase in power and the thermal management of electronics.

Innovative battery technology powers industry

This blog has previously discussed the evolution of mobile electronic devices and the need for innovative thermal management technologies. Simply put, as products like smartphones and tablets become more powerful, they generate more heat that needs to be controlled in order for them to operate efficiently.

What is just as important, although typically gets less attention from the average consumer, is battery technology. When someone buys a new Android phone or Windows tablet, one of the first things they want to know is what kind of battery life they will get out of it. How long can they play Angry Birds before it's time for a charge? What they don't often realize is the cutting-edge nature of the techniques used to build these power sources.

Sony recently announced that it will launch a new line of thin, external batteries later this fall that will be able to provide additional power to portable electronic devices. According to an IDG News Service report, one of the new Sony battery models has a capacity of 7,000 mAh. By comparison, the iPhone battery has a 1,440 mAh capacity.

"The smartphone market is growing, so the battery market is also growing accordingly," said Sony spokesman Jin Tomihari.

Whether internal or external, the emphasis in today's markets is on small, lightweight and thin batteries. In order to accomplish this, manufacturers have to approach joining dissimilar metals and the bonding of battery terminals from unique perspectives. The goal is to work as efficiently as possible with a very small amount of real estate.

Without the leaps forward in their design over the last decade, mobile phones would do little more than perform the function they are probably least used for today – making calls.

As the gaming industry powers up, thermal management becomes critical

In the last 30-plus years, video games have come a long way. We went from Pac-Man to Super Mario Brothers to Resident Evil. Graphics went from 8 bits to 16 and on to full 1080p high definition. Content formats transitioned from cartridges to CDs to DVDs and now Blu-ray discs and digital downloads.

Block-style visuals gave way to the stunning imagery of games like the Uncharted series – a franchise that rivals the cinematic environment of an Indiana Jones film. Just ask Harrison Ford, who was featured in commercials advertising Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception, marveling at the realism and immersive storytelling of the game.

Year after year, there are innovations in technology that bring visceral experiences to consoles and mobile devices like smartphones and tablets. The equipment continues to get more powerful, and subsequently generates considerable amounts of heat. Historically, consumers have run into problems with consoles overheating and breaking down.

But, companies like Sony and Microsoft that make the Playstation 3 and Xbox 360, respectively, are relying on the latest in thermal management technologies to control the heat generated by these increasingly powerful systems. Combined with material bonding techniques that help to reduce the overall size of gaming machines, companies are able to reduce manufacturing costs while delivering the most powerful equipment the industry has ever seen.

According to a study released by Parks Associates earlier this year, the number of individuals playing video games in the United states has skyrocketed by 241 percent since 2008. The popularity of consumer electronics is creating growing demand for manufacturing technologies that can deliver on user expectations.

"Today's games drive technological and societal advancements that serve gamers and non-gamers alike," Richard Taylor, senior vice president for communications and industry affairs at the Entertainment Software Association, told Mashable.

Innovative thermal management of electronics is going to be in high demand for a long time to come because, without it, lucrative sectors like the gaming industry wouldn't be nearly as profitable as they are today.

Thermal management a priority as popularity of mobile electronics rises

In the last five years, the popularity of personal electronic devices has skyrocketed among consumers. People are flocking to retailers in droves to purchase the latest smartphones and tablet computers – like Apple’s iconic iPhone and iPad.

The technology used to make these devices continues to improve, making them faster, sleeker and more powerful. As a result, they generate considerably higher levels of heat than the products of old, which places a premium on more efficient thermal management technologies.

Earlier this year, Global Industry Analysts, Inc. (GIA) released “Electronic Thermal Management: A Global Strategic Business Report,” stating that the global market for electronic thermal management will hit $8.6 billion by the year 2015. According to the GIA study, market growth came to a virtual standstill when the recession struck in 2008. However, as the economy recovers and the mobile electronics sector continues to manufacture miniaturized processors at such a rapid pace, thermal management is expected to enjoy a significant resurgence.

“In the wake of growing sophistication and functionality of a variety of electronics systems, thermal management has assumed an important role in the management of costs associated with product development and time required for market release,” said the GIA press release. “Hardware products such as heat sinks and thermoelectric coolers, and software for designing these products would be the key beneficiaries.”

Countless industries rely on innovative techniques for thermal management of electronics in order to deliver the best products and services to consumers. Without them, great ideas remain ideas and never become actual products.

The trend of smaller, lightweight devices that are increasingly more powerful could not happen without these innovations, which directly influence the design phase of the end product itself. Take that away, and modern smartphones would look very different than they do today.

ORNL to receive $1M to develop innovative battery design

Battery research at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee is one of 19 projects recently awarded funds from the U.S. Department of Energy. Each of the projects is designed to address ways to improve energy storage, with applications in electric vehicle technologies, electrical grid stability and efficiency and U.S. armed forces security, according to a DOE release.

ORNL is set to receive $1 million of the total $43 million provided through the DOE's Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E). The goal is to regulate destructive hotspots that develop during use, according to the statement. Each research initiative is being supported through two new ARPA-E programs – Advanced Management and Protection of Energy Storage Devices and Small Business Innovation Research.

"This latest round of ARPA-E projects seek to address the remaining challenges in energy storage technologies, which could revolutionize the way Americans store and use energy in electric vehicles, the grid and beyond, while also potentially improving the access to energy for the U.S. military at forward operating bases in remote areas," said Secretary of Energy Steven Chu. "These cutting-edge projects could transform our energy infrastructure, dramatically reduce our reliance on imported oil and increase American energy security."

Thermal management technologies have become a high-profile point of focus as they have the potential to dramatically increase battery life and efficiency while reducing long-term costs. By increasing thermal conductivity, heat management and battery performance improves.

In addition to making batteries more efficient, these innovations reduce the need for less environmentally friendly energy sources. Applying innovative thermal management technologies across a number of industries can have widespread and positive effects on the global ecosystem – both short and long-term.

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