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Cringley: Chip Manufacturing To Radically Change

Hemos posted more than 13 years ago | from the easy-to-predict dept.

Technology 141

eshefer writes " This week cringely talks about a company called rolltronics which he claims will make the current microprocessor fabrication on silicon wafers technology defunct in five years. The company uses roll-to-roll printing on plastic (somewhat like newspaper printing presses) making the process much cheaper to produce then current technologies. "

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Innovator's Dilemma (1)

mfterman (2719) | more than 13 years ago | (#495062)

Not sure this technology will take off, anyone remember bubble memory or any of a dozen other pieces of technology set to take over the world? But it could, and through the same process that personal computers blew away minicomputers. Originally, personal computers were crap compared to minis. Slower, less reliable, less functional, you name it. Anyone who wanted to replace their minis with a bunch of PCs would have been looked at as insane. Now these days, people run very powerful and sophisticated software that mini's used to do on their PCs and now you have SETI using all that networked power to do supercomputer work.

If they get this technology to actually work commercially, it could destroy conventional chipmaking techniques. Sure, these things will be slower than normal chips. However as the book _Innovator's Dilemma_ clearly states, what usually happens is that this technology will end up filling a new niche on the low end. Take embedded systems. This plastic technology is a natural fit for that sort of thing. Sure, its slower but most embedded systems are not CPU hogs anyway, and the lower cost and higher production rates outweigh the disadvantages of the reduced processor speed. The manufacturers of this technology work on refining the density of the circuity they're printing on the plastic, improving performance. Slowly they start eroding at the conventional chip technology market from the bottom up. Chip makers keep giving up the low end as they focus on the high end.

The problem is you can't keep doing that forever. Sooner or later you run out of ground. So in a few decades, you might find that for everything but the luxury high performance end of things, all your circuits are printed plastic instead of etched silicon. That's how companies can get burned going with the "sure" technology and get blasted out of the market from below. The low end inevitabily eats up into the high end with cheap technology improvements.

Not that I'm saying this is going to happen. A lot depends on whether they can make this work commercially and how well the technology scales. But it could happen. Don't go dismissing it out of hand. The smart answer is 'wait and see'.

Re:Sorry...But I have to say these two things? (1)

Palin (3182) | more than 13 years ago | (#495063)



Well atleast this crack smoking junkey corrected his mistakes ... :-)

Sorry...But I have to say these two things? (2)

Palin (3182) | more than 13 years ago | (#495064)

1-Why is the crack smoking junkey who put that website together?

2- Anita Borg, Ph.D. -- Product Innovation and Social Responsibility. Hehe. I just think it's too funny.

$15 computers and commericial operating systems (4)

Bookwyrm (3535) | more than 13 years ago | (#495065)

It would be worth considering that should this scenario come true, it would have an interesting impact on the usages of free-vs-commercial operating systems. If the computer costs $15 to make, people are not going to be spending $80-$100 to put Windows Whatever on it.

On the flip side, if the computers are 'disposable', then this might drive up interest in MS .NET and similiar network-based hosting/application providers as a place to store data and applications on, with the $15 computers being treated as more of an access device than a computer -- the catch would be whether or not the monthly service charges or what have you over the long term were cheaper than buying a 'real'/non-disposable computer with software or not.

Re:Ball Semi also interesting (2)

warmcat (3545) | more than 13 years ago | (#495066)

At least you clicked on the link and learnt something, which is more than the dumbass moderator who thinks the post is ''offtopic''

Ball Semi also interesting (3)

warmcat (3545) | more than 13 years ago | (#495067)

Ball Semiconductor [] have at least as interesting a plan to deposit semiconductors on small spherical surfaces. They have some small gates working already.

Re:What happens (1)

yelvington (8169) | more than 13 years ago | (#495070)

I want to know if it rubs off on my hands.

Re:Ball Semi also interesting (1)

bughunter (10093) | more than 13 years ago | (#495071)

Ball Semiconductor. Spherical ICs. At first, I thought this was a troll...

Re:Ball Semi also interesting (1)

bughunter (10093) | more than 13 years ago | (#495072)

Actually, I remembered reading about it in EE Times or something... it just took a moment to surface. Meanwhile, I was chuckling at the pun.

The humor of which, BTW, isn't diminished.

Re:Cringley doesn't go far enough (1)

bughunter (10093) | more than 13 years ago | (#495073)

You can say that, yes, if you are able to adjust the scale at which you look at that curve over multiple orders of magnitude.

But human perception, in general, with respect to the number of pieces of information it can juggle at once, or the "gain" of a sensory organ, is restricted to only a few orders of magnitude, and in some instances only one order, so we percieve apparent "knees" in exponential phenomena. Preception of acoustic intensity is a classic example.

Context can also impose a frame of reference on an exponential effect. I'd like to elaborate but the boss just walked in...

Cringley doesn't go far enough (2)

bughunter (10093) | more than 13 years ago | (#495074)

He's right - there's going to be an amazing convergence of new technology in the next decade: organic semiconductors, inkjet mass production, digital paper, amorphous photovoltaics, fuel cells, polymer electrolytes, bluetooth, broadcast power. It's going to be a cyberpunk's wet dream. Sure, the first things built using these advances are going to be large, slow and clumsy compared to their ultimate potential, but Bob's yeoman analogy is accurate for a reason. In another decade or two, the power of a modern laptop PC will be shrunken down to something you can fold up and stuff in your shirt pocket, and cost less than the shirt.

And it just may BE your shirt pocket. That's what Cringley probably knows but isn't saying - When it becomes that cheap to just "print" a computer, they'll be integrated into everything: refrigerators, automobiles, clothing, furniture, you name it. Sure, there will still be information appliances, but their purpose will evolve into enabling your coordination of all the other computers you will interact with throughout your day, from your own household accoutrements to public infrastructure to your employer and the internet at large.

It is going to make the world unrecognizeable.


And the amount of information that will need to be exchanged is going to make today's bandwidths look like trickles. Right now, we are at the knee of the exponential growth curve of the telecommunications market, and technology will keep up with demand as improvments in optical swithcing continue. Communication service is going to become more important than banking - hell, banking and finance has already become little more than information flowing around a network.

You want to be a part of it? Forget putting your money in the people who make computers. Invest in telecommunications, and the hardware that supports it. That's where the fortunes are going to be made.

Re:Semicond plastics not suitable for high density (2)

bughunter (10093) | more than 13 years ago | (#495075)

electron mobility [sucks] / chemical instability [sucks]

These are just areas where we will see the incremental improvement that Cringley described.

Hell, in 1988, when I bought my first CD player, the hard drive couldn't store even one track from a CD. Now my hard drive holds dozens of ripped CDs, in many cases uncompressed.

Re:Doing the math (2)

bughunter (10093) | more than 13 years ago | (#495076)

Well, aside from trying to poke holes in your math, there are (at least) two other reasons why these "plastic" computers are going to be a big hit, despite the fact that they're lower on the curve than ones made out of polluted sand: - Cost. The organic materials are much less expensive than the ultrapure materials required to make semiconductors and hard drives. That's why CDs are so cheap. (At least as long as the oil holds out.) - Ubiquity. When you can print a computer on any old visibly clean surface, not just plastic sheets, then you've turned an important corner. You can now put computers into eyeglasses, furniture, windows, coffemakers, even underwear (just imagine!) It doesn't matter how fast the machine once you pass certain computational thresholds: the ability to support a graphic interface, the speed to reproduce audio,and another milestone for video. Each of these thresholds open up yet more applications for embedded computing.

Don't dismiss it out of hand (2)

joshv (13017) | more than 13 years ago | (#495078)

Yes, because the is a larger lower bound of feature size they are not going to be cranking out 1GHz CPUs on this stuff, especially when the chip is the size of a sheet of paper - it takes electrons time to get from place to place.

So this limits the power of individual processors using this process, but you can go massively parallel, just add another processor page, or 3 or 10...

This may never produce a barnstormer of a computer, but it sounds promising for consumer electronics and web appliances.


Re:You have got to be kidding (2)

Bearpaw (13080) | more than 13 years ago | (#495079)

The circuit size will drive up power usage and heat generation.

You're thinking in terms of silicon. It's not a straight scale-up when you're changing the basic materials. It's my understanding that a polymer-based CPU of that size would generate less heat and use less power than a silicon-based CPU sized as they currently are.

Re:$15 computers and commericial operating systems (2)

Bearpaw (13080) | more than 13 years ago | (#495080)

If the computer costs $15 to make, people are not going to be spending $80-$100 to put Windows Whatever on it.

Interesting thought, but it doesn't necessarily follow. You can buy a pretty decently-made blank book for just a few dollars, but lots of people happily buy the latest hard-cover best-sellers for $20-$30 (US). (I might not think Windows Whatever will be worth the extra cost, but I don't think the latest John Grisham is worth $28, either.)

How this might not be bad (3)

Bearpaw (13080) | more than 13 years ago | (#495081)

Rechargeable batteries.

Re:$15 computers and commericial operating systems (1)

sharkey (16670) | more than 13 years ago | (#495082)

If the computer costs $15 to make, people are not going to be spending $80-$100 to put Windows Whatever on it.

True, but isn't Whislter being positioned to be the replacement for Win9x and NT? By the time this process is ready for mass market, MS will probably be trying to shove Whistler down everyones throats. Since it is next in line after the current NT releases, it's a good bet that it will cost as much or more than Win2000, which the Professional version has an MSRP of almost $400. Of course, if people are that in love with Wondows, they'll buy it, but the ones on the fence will most likely gravitate to some thing more affordable.


Almost there (1)

Midnight Thunder (17205) | more than 13 years ago | (#495083)

Although the technology fits on a sheet of paper ( what size? ), in theory it should be possible to fold it, or roll it, so it takes less space. Other advantages would include the fact that you could actually place it a wafer of plastic - imagine your desk could actually be made of layers of this technology and you wouldn't even notice, and all you would have to is plug your keyboard in.

Technologies at this stage are often seen by themselves and out of context, but once out of the research stage there is nothing stopping them from being combined with other technologies to increase the number of possible applications.

These sort of technologies are what will help contribute to the invisible technologies - whereby they are there and made use of, but you won't notice them.

a possible problem with the concept (2)

_narf_ (21764) | more than 13 years ago | (#495084)

What if someone accidentally rips my laptop? :)

Re:Uh, oh. We've heard this before... (1)

Moofie (22272) | more than 13 years ago | (#495085)

Yeah, remember all those press releases about cool new technology that happened eighteen months ago but I can't buy at the store yet? Those all must suck, so they should go ahead and stop developing them.

Science takes time, but it ALWAYS ALWAYS gets results. Project Apollo took, what, a whole 15 years to get people from primitive jet engines to walking on the moon. Who wants to wait that long?

Re:How this could be bad (1)

Moofie (22272) | more than 13 years ago | (#495086)

Do you have any idea how much venture capital you could get if you had a credible design for a five year battery for a computer? ANY computer? If you know how to do that, I'll be glad to scare up some financing. Somehow.

Re:Why do you all do it? (1)

Moofie (22272) | more than 13 years ago | (#495087)

What, you're going to land on that and ignore all the people who say "Here here!" when they should be saying "Hear hear!"

Just like Mr. Simpson says. "It's pronounced noo-kyew-lar."

No, it's not an American thing. I bet there are people in other countries that have bad grammar too...I'm just not good enough (enuff?) at reading their languages to pick it up. And British authors...hell, they think car hoods are called bonnets and cookies are called biscuits! Never mind grey and colour. Or Aluminium (sic). Who can tell what those poofters (weirdos) think is a grammar error?

Re:Doing the math (1)

Moofie (22272) | more than 13 years ago | (#495088)

Regarding your last point, it's interesting that the first computers DID cost $500 million EASILY (depending on how you want to adjust for inflation), but you can get a superb pocket calculator for $15. It's not as far fetched as it might seem on the face of it...

Re:Don't dismiss it out of hand (1)

artg (24127) | more than 13 years ago | (#495090)

So a beowulf cluster would fill a shelf ?
Or a library ?

Re:How this could be bad (2)

ConceptJunkie (24823) | more than 13 years ago | (#495093)

Well, they tried marketing DVD's that expire (DIVX) and look how long that lasted!

I don't doubt that there would be an easy and economical way to recharge/reuse/replace the power cell.

Another company trying to make cheap computers (3)

Argyle (25623) | more than 13 years ago | (#495094)

There was an interesting Wired Magazine article [] that discussed the work being done by Paper Computer [] to make cheap flat computers.

There was a Slashdot article [] about these guys over a year ago.

Re:Computing hazard (3)

gmhowell (26755) | more than 13 years ago | (#495095)

Considering how reluctant paper is to disappear down the hole with our lousy 1.5 GPF toilets, I seriously doubt the computer would go anywhere.

GPF=Gallons per Flush

Fetch! (2)

Basje (26968) | more than 13 years ago | (#495096)

Great. Now you can have the dog fetch your laptop. I hope that they find a way to prevent it getting soaked at the same time


Doing the math (2)

Shotgun (30919) | more than 13 years ago | (#495100)

I don't have all the numbers to fill this in, but here's a try.

The technology is aiming to be available 5 yrs from now (notice how long shots are always 5 yrs out)

The latest generation of microprocessors have around ?20?million transistors. 5yrs will give us 3 more doublings (assuming Moore's Law holds), so will be looking at replicationg 160mil transistors for the processor. 1Gig of Ram, add another billion. All the other circuitry, lets just make it simple and say that an average computer will have 1.5billion transistors in 2005.

A magazine has around 200 pages. So each page of this computer will have to hold something like 7.5million transistors (assuming an even distribution).

Assuming they can print at 300dpi (which I believe is high for mass printing) on 8inx11in media gives

300x8x300x11 = 7.92 million

This may look like it will pass until you consider that a transistor will take more than a pixel and then consider inter-transistor wiring. If this is enough they will barely be cutting the edge unless:
-they can print at higher resolution
-they can print more pages

I don't see the need anyway. Computers are cheap now. You can get one for $100. What's expensive are the latest processors, and they're not expensive because of production cost. It's recapturing the engineering cost that drives up the price. This will only produce $15 computers if someone is willing to pay $500million for the first one.

Re:Cringley doesn't go far enough (1)

leftorium (32683) | more than 13 years ago | (#495102)

I think the world is computerized enough right now. It's enough of a pain in the ass to bother with synching every random appliance I have and getting everything working together, playing nicely, etc. How much of a royal pain in the ass will it be when everything, from t-shirts to condoms (didn't think about that one, didja), to toilet paper holds information that people "need"?
I don't want to live in a world where I have to sync a condom after usage in order to see the stats on it. I'd rather not know some things. And I definitely don't want to sync my t-shirt with everything else. Imagine hooking yourself up to the computer for a few minutes every morning... it'll be like taking an EKG (hooking up nodes to various parts of you). Screw that. The palm docking station is enough syncing for me. I'm a fruit of the loom guy... not a fruit of the valley.
everyone was born right-handed, only the greatest overcome it.

Cringley (1)

daviskw (32827) | more than 13 years ago | (#495103)

Bob is often interesting and always entertaining.

I think, however, he missed the boat on this one. In an age where Geometries are shrinking by orders of ten, twenty or even a hundred, it is not inconcieveable that five years from now they will be talking about mass producing chips where their geometries are approaching the size of atoms.

The reason the printing press didn't change very much in three hundred years was because the people who sold it didn't have to worry about some guy down the street coming out with a better, simpler model. Intel and AMD do. I believe Bob is right when he talks about this company making something revelutionary, but I would bet money that these people are twenty years too late.

Semicond plastics not suitable for high density (5)

SysKoll (48967) | more than 13 years ago | (#495105)

This technology is old hat already, the trade press has been writing about it for years.


  • supple plastic circuits
  • Mostly transparent
  • Low cost once the process is established


  • The electron mobility of these plastic semicond junctions suck. So this is good only for low-speed circuits. I'm not sure this is even good enough for the few MHz of CD-A audio decoding.
  • Concerns about chemical instability. These plastic circuits will have a low density, a low-cost packaging, and hence offer a huge surface to pollution by environment reactants. Ozone can make holes in the latex of condoms, guess what it can do to a semiconductor thin film exposed to air.

A often-quoted great app is the head-up display for cars: a transparent set of electonic circuits that you glue on your windshield and contains its own display. UV protection films are mandatory for keeping the circuits from burning in the summer, but it looks feasable and cheaper than the usual optical projection solutions.

Don't sell that $12 million 193-nm optical stepper in your silicon fab, though. We're not there yet, especially for medium or high speed circuits.

Re:Sorry...But I have to say these two things? (2)

1010011010 (53039) | more than 13 years ago | (#495106)

It came from Frontpage... it was pulled along on wires...

I'm sure that every cutting-edge, change-the-industry startup company does their web site with Frontpage. I can't wait to see their saran-wrap substrate processors.

- - - - -

Maybe good for linux? (2)

mjh (57755) | more than 13 years ago | (#495108)

If this is true, then that's a lot of cheap computers, that are going to need an operating system. One that's already demonstrated an ability to be easily ported to lots of architectures. This could be a big win for Linux.

Not newspaper.. low circulation magazines (3)

coug_ (63333) | more than 13 years ago | (#495109)

Think more along the lines of magazine presses which are less likely to exhibit flaws (in my experience). The production of newspapers is done with less concern about details - as long as the thing is basically readable, no one's going to complain about a $.50 paper and the newspaper presses know this. As the circulation goes down and cost of issue goes up, people are more likely to complain. In this case, the circulation is going to be extremely low - everyone isn't going to be buying a computer every day, week, or month. The company would naturally have to make sure that this roll process is accurate enough that they can limit the number of misprinted computers to an amount that can be recovered by profits without a problem.

Re:How this could be bad (2)

bugg (65930) | more than 13 years ago | (#495110)

Which is a damn shame!

I rent DVDs for $5, when with DIVX I could have "purchased" the physical item. Besides the convience of having it closer for more replays (paying the $5 again), or being able to buy it for life ($20), I have nothing when I return it to Blockbuster. And late fees? Pfft.

And what would have made DIVX even more tempting if it caught on was the opportunity to hack the player to play "expired" disks.

So what I'm saying here is.. I don't know what I'm saying. In DIVX it's a good idea, because a video disk is an item you'd perhaps rent. But for a computer? I like my comptuers big, grey, and power hungry. I'm barely sold on the concept of batteries, let alone in computers.

Certainly cool for some stuff (1)

michael_cain (66650) | more than 13 years ago | (#495111)

As many have pointed out, this would not be suitable for many things such as really high clock rate processors where teeny tiny features are critical. But you could do some cool stuff with it. Possibilities:
  • All the memory and drive electronics for a solid state TV screen, with an OLED layer for the light emitters. Cheap flat panel TV to hang on your wall!
  • Screen, touch pad, memory and slow processor for something like a Palm. Make it 3"x5" and then mount the quarter-inch-thick result in a bit of hard plastic housing for durability. Cheap digital assistant!
  • Same as the last one with an IR transmitter and receiver. Cheap teachable universal remote!
The comments about the cost of the OS and other software for these gizmos raise interesting questions about what the total cost might be.

Really high density? (2)

taniwha (70410) | more than 13 years ago | (#495112)

I doubt this technology will work for high-density state-of-the-art sorts of things (like CPUs for example) - it probably makes sense for something where transistor size doesn't have to be submicron (like in a TFT display). However for a 1GHz CPU it's not going to cut it (they have to be small because of little things like the speed of light and RC effects in wires).

On the other hand there's a whole range of electronics out there where this sort of density is not an issue and this could make a lot of older fabs that are building this stuff redundant.

I could imagine a cool disk drive replacement with this technology - basicly a pile of mylar sheets - I bet you could get comparable densities at similar prices .... and you wouldn't have to spin them ....

It's not so easy as it might seem... (2)

timholman (71886) | more than 13 years ago | (#495114)

Nowhere in Cringley's article is there any discussion of the performance penalty that this process would entail. Let's assume we want to duplicate the equivalent of 50 million transistors clocked at 1 GHz. Right now Intel can squeeze that many components on a 200 square millimeter die by using a CMOS process with a 0.18 micron feature size.

Now assume that your printing process needs transistors with 10 micron feature sizes to ensure proper registration and a high enough yield to be manufacturable. That increases your effective "die" to 956 square inches. (Area increases with the square of feature size.) That's equivalent to 10 sheets of single-sided paper.

For a multi-layer printing process, 10 layers of plastic sandwiched together would definitely be possible. HOWEVER - you are not going to be able to clock your circuit at 1 GHz! Because of the much larger size (and capacitance) of your circuit, you'll do well to get a 1 MHz clock speed (1000X slower).

While this process may be very useful for e-books, displays, etc., I don't see how any high-performance computing could be done with a microprocessor constructed with this technique. Your only alternative to slower clock speeds would be massive parallelism to achieve higher computational throughput. Assuming a direct tradeoff of speed versus number of transistors, you would need 10000 layers instead of 10 layers in your process. There goes your low manufacturing cost.

It's not just enough for a computer to be cheap. It's got to be fast, or it's no good to anyone.

Re:sure, we'll solder to plastic circuitry. (4)

daniell (78495) | more than 13 years ago | (#495115)

This is actually conjuring up an amusing image of someone actually plugging in their soldering iron waiting for it to heat up correctly, and testing and cleaning the tip with a bit of solder. Fully satisfied that the process is well on its way, our hardware hacker touches both the solder end and the coper wire for the battery to the terminals he's so carefully traced through his dead machine. He's looking forward to a new and working machine, and brings the iron down to melt the solder. Before it even gets to the ink terminal on the plastic, the top layer browns, then melts away, exposing the next sensitive layer which quickly does the same as the iron is brought to a contact possition with the wire and solder. Our hacker realizes his error as he reflexivly twitches back; the solder hasn't melted yet, but there's a glob of messy plastic and ink burning to the tip of his iron. For shame, he thinks as toxins fill his notrils, I am so surprisingly stupid. :)


Uh, oh. We've heard this before... (3)

smoondog (85133) | more than 13 years ago | (#495117)

Sounds like we've been through this path before. Unfortunately, developing new technologies rarely works and just because there is a company dedicated to it doesn't mean much more. Remember 3d protein memory based on lasers and rhodopsin? I'll believe it when I see it.


You have got to be kidding (1)

AllynKC (88909) | more than 13 years ago | (#495118)

Our microprocessor isn't some tiny silicon die -- it's the size of a sheet of paper, maybe two
Where to start? The circuit size will drive up power usage and heat generation. The only way to offset this will be to slow the processor, and to add a huge battery. The result will be one of the biggest and heaviest "laptop" systems on the market that's slower than a P-100 and able to heat an average 3-bedroom house all by itself.

What about cost of development? (1)

Greg_Girty (90984) | more than 13 years ago | (#495119)

Although this technology has the possibility to make manufacturing chips much cheaper, Cringly doesn't mention anything about designing them.

How much of the current price of a chip goes into R&D? Half or more?

Now, granted, producing more chips does allow the cost of R&D to be distributed to more costomers, but the idead of a $15 computer seems absurd. You can only distribute the cost to so many poeple. (Most of the first world already supports it, and who else can afford it?)

I hope this technology works, but it's more likely to be an evolution than a revolution.

Karma whoring (1)

Greg_Girty (90984) | more than 13 years ago | (#495120)

If computers only cost $15 to manufacture, that will mean Windows will be over 3x more expensive than the computer itself.

The masses will finally start taking free software seriously.

Why we make chips the way we do... (1)

CSG_SurferDude (96615) | more than 13 years ago | (#495123)

Try printing something that's 15 atoms across....

Try aligning your printing presses to that kind of close tolerances....

Try doing multi-layers with this thing...

Sure, it might work, but I doubt it.

Re:How this could be bad (1)

BradleyUffner (103496) | more than 13 years ago | (#495124)

It can't be too hard to wire another battery to it, just solder 2 points together and bypass the dead batter.

Re:Trace length? (1)

SmokeSerpent (106200) | more than 13 years ago | (#495125)

Well, if we get real simplistic and ignore the timing of operations, the distance across a page would only limit the CPU to something like 14.9GHz. Then again, you could get fancy with the layout, and if you consider the layering, you can keep some key parts of the CPU within less than 1/4 inch from each other.

Anybody who says these things would replace current technology as speed/power leaders any time soon is smoking crack, but I would certainly pay $15 for a 486DX66 laptop.

Chips are things of the past. (1)

SpanishInquisition (127269) | more than 13 years ago | (#495126)

Nachos are much better.

Slashdot Headline: 2015 (1)

SatelliteBoy (134412) | more than 13 years ago | (#495130)

I can see the headline now:

Hack your AOL Spamputer to run Linux 6.4!

If you thought those AOL CD's were bad, imagine getting pre-configured computers in the mail. If it's cheap enough, it'll happen.

Re:$15 computers and commericial operating systems (1)

dashjosh (134999) | more than 13 years ago | (#495131)

If computers cost $15, then Microsoft will sell an OS for them that costs $2. By now, we should all realize that MS is extremely responsive to changes in the consumer computing market.

Trace length? (2)

djrogers (153854) | more than 13 years ago | (#495133)

Wouldn't the length of traces eventually represent a problem? We're already running into 'speed of electrons' problems with current designs, wouldn't an 8" CPU only magnify the problem, and create a speed limitation?

Re:How this could be bad (1)

sid_vicious (157798) | more than 13 years ago | (#495134)

Or, even if it's not rechargeable, by the time a 5-year lithium battery runs out, you're probably ready for a new $15 computer.

What happens (1)

JCMay (158033) | more than 13 years ago | (#495135)

What happens when the wafers get all crinkeled up like my newspapers?

Re:You have got to be kidding (1)

Ben Pflaum (160274) | more than 13 years ago | (#495136)

Heat is a result of resistance. Bigger circuit components would have a lower resistance and preduce less heat. So this computer will probably run cool, but it may still waste power and at the one to two page per processor it will be slow.

Re:You have got to be kidding (3)

Ace905 (163071) | more than 13 years ago | (#495138)

"Where to start? The circuit size will drive up power usage and heat generation."

Where to start? Decreasing density leads to better heat dissipation. Changing fabrication materials could mean less heat generation. Size doesn't mean anything so long as no space is wasted; moving outwards in the x axis, instead of adding gates upwards to the y-axis are equivilants. ie: building out instead of up.

Re:What about cost of development? (1)

GodSpiral (167039) | more than 13 years ago | (#495139)

I'd be surprised if there is more than $5 worth of silicon in current chips.

Sure these guys want to roll out the entire computer, from $15 in plastic, but is there really much more than $15 in raw materials in ur existing puter?

There's the challenge of designing all the components, and performance questions (what is the gate length possible under this process?). I wish them luck, but I'll jump on the bandwagon when its no longer vaporware.

Didn't you guys READ the article (2)

sniglet999 (168561) | more than 13 years ago | (#495140)

What he was saying (with the whole Longbow/rifle analogy) was that, while the technology may seem to be inadequate/kludgy now, it may not be in the future.

AFA all the 'it won't compete with a X Ghz processor' has it occured to anybody that you print the pages for the supportable stuff (battery/display) and all 100 pages have a notch dead center where a real processor is dropped JUUUST before you laminate on the keyboard?

So then you HAVE your 1 Ghz, $40 laptop.

Why do you all do it? (3)

LKH (168628) | more than 13 years ago | (#495142)

Is it an American thing or something? Why is it that I so frequently see the (mis)use of then instead of than. Taco, for one, is well known for doing it, and here we see that a Slashdot reader, who obviously has been around a while, has been sucked into Taco's own version of the English language.

Enough is enough I say! Bring back the 'a' in than!


Re:How this could be bad (1)

ocelotbob (173602) | more than 13 years ago | (#495143)

I agree that this could be bad in a situation like this, borderline terrible, in fact. However, a disposable computer, like a disposable camera, can also be a good thing. Imagine losing your laptop when the airline loses your luggage (I know, Real Geeks take their laptops as carry-ons, but I digress). Now imagine picking up a Laptopzine at the airport shop for $50 that'll let you communicate with your company while you're on your trip waiting for your claim with the airline to go through. At the end of your trip, all you have to do is recycle your laptop. You've got less little lost productivity, and an interesting toy to play with for a little while.

Re:Cringley doesn't go far enough (1)

ahem (174666) | more than 13 years ago | (#495144)

... . Right now, we are at the knee of the exponential growth curve of the telecommunications market, ...

There's always been something that's bothered me about this 'knee of the growth curve' phrase. Aren't you always at the knee of the curve? As time progresses, the slope of the future curve is always exponentially steeper than the slope of the curve behind you. Isn't that why exponential growth on a log plot is a straight line?

OFFTOPIC?! How is this offtopic? (1)

zombieking (177383) | more than 13 years ago | (#495148)

Just another example that moderators should not have a glass crack pipe within arms reach when moderating...

But seriously folks, a hard drive with no moving parts would be great. No moving parts = less of a chance for hard drive failure. (2)

SubtleNuance (184325) | more than 13 years ago | (#495150)

And the old-line companies like Intel and AMD, which are currently fighting over which is the superior obsolete semiconductor company, well, those outfits go out of business

Bzzzt Wrong.

Intel or AMD BUYS our friendly RollTronics and maintain their positions in the new era --or-- they get involved enough in the technology and prove that it, in fact, does not work (in order to protect their $XXX Trillion dollar fab investments)

Could be useful in displays? (1)

Gordonjcp (186804) | more than 13 years ago | (#495151)

About five years ago I read about a team at a (IIRC) Glasgow Uni who were printing flexible LED's onto PET (ie. drinks bottle plastic).
This might be a good way to make large LED displays.

Cliche time... (1)

Phokus (192971) | more than 13 years ago | (#495152)

STOP THE PRESSES! Sorry that had to be said :)

Re:How this might not be bad (1)

LiRM35 (194225) | more than 13 years ago | (#495153)

Coupled with a photovoltaic area on the cover.

Computing hazard (2)

BluedemonX (198949) | more than 13 years ago | (#495154)

If you're ever stuck in a bathroom stall that's "empty" you'll have to severely double check the piece of scrap paper you use... you might be tossing/flushing your laptop by mistake.

What a concept.

Imagine sending THAT back to tech support for repair: "Reason for repair:" Euhh..... "Curry Related Emergency?"

Re:a possible problem with the concept (1)

stubob (204064) | more than 13 years ago | (#495157)

or all the kids start taping signs to each other that say "Boot me!"

I had a feeling you were going to say that.

Re:Uh, oh. We've heard this before... (1)

micromoog (206608) | more than 13 years ago | (#495158)

Yeah, fuck it. Let's just stop all research, and declare that humanity has reached the pinnacle of all possible knowledge.

Re:How this could be bad (1)

micromoog (206608) | more than 13 years ago | (#495159)

bypass the dead batter.

Isn't this what pinch hitters are for?

Re:Computing hazard (1)

micromoog (206608) | more than 13 years ago | (#495160)

Next time you see "1.0 GPF" on a public toilet, just mutter to yourself "Man, this shitter's got a better crash rate than my Win98 box!!"

Re:Uh, oh. We've heard this before... (2)

dubious21 (207952) | more than 13 years ago | (#495161)

Yes, developing new technologies rarely works. That is why we are still in the Stone Age.

hype hype hype (1)

Sabol (210513) | more than 13 years ago | (#495162)

Why is it everyday I'm reading about inventions that are going to "revolutionize" an industry? You can make whatever predictions you'd like, if you are a well respected expert people may even listen to you. The fact is that the "next big thing" often is NOT. All new inventions hit snags. While I am sure there is a demand for a $15 laptop, even if it is quite a bit slower by todays standards, they are likely to cost much more at first. If the don't catch on quickly, they aren't going to get cheaper, and this company is likely to go out of buisness. After which other companies will be unlikely to embrace the new technology. Although I would like to see an idea like this succeed, I'll beleive it when I see it.

Re:Cringley doesn't go far enough (2)

skoda (211470) | more than 13 years ago | (#495163)

Let's hope that his analogy isn't too accurate:
"Say you were an English yeoman in the 15th century. ... Then your boss' boss up in the manor house said everyone had to trade his bow for a rifle. ... Early firearms were so bad they mostly just made noise. The longbow was not only more accurate in the hands of a good archer, it had longer range. But in time, firearms met the accuracy of bows and exceeded them. A 15th century futurist would see that. The trick is in timing when to jump to the new way of doing things."

The problem with this analogy is that guns didn't exceed bows until about 300 hundred years later (and the yeoman, and his children, and children's children, et. cyk. hopefully stuck with archery.)

I'm hoping to see nifty plastic computers sooner than that. But until then, I think I'll hang onto my yew-wood bow, er, semiconductor computer.
D. Fischer

Tech Limits on plastic (2)

Technician (215283) | more than 13 years ago | (#495166)

Last time I checked, most plastics have a large thermal expansion factor. Most modern CPU's have 5 or 6 metal layers of lines to connect things together. Materials are carefully chosen so the silicon, Inter Layer Dielectric, interconnects, and packaging all expand about the same. Can you say thermal cycling and stress crack failure? Actualy I see this technology being useful in something needing less than 3 connect layers that are not metal (limiting speed due to resistance) like an Active LCD or full color LED display. I wonder if they can make color LED's with this stuff. A large bright color display you could roll out on the wall in the confrence room would be neat.

You don't think english as written, but in sounds (1)

RedLaggedTeut (216304) | more than 13 years ago | (#495167)

You don't think english as written, but in sounds. It often happens you write a word in a different spelling, but the same sounds. Can't recall right now for which words it happens to me, but for example knights(nights), too(two)

Coppermine technology? (1)

jelly69 (217602) | more than 13 years ago | (#495168)

Isn't Coppermine just a marketing gimmick from Intel? I think the dude meant copper interconnect.

Re:Chips are things of the past. (2)

lrichardson (220639) | more than 13 years ago | (#495169)

I _love_ Nachos too ... and think Cringely is a bit of a dip on this.

Why the f$ck would anyone think computers are going this way? Smaller is a trend. Wearable is a trend. Remote processing is a trend. All of which can be pushed to utterly ridiculous limits within the next decade! This Rolltronics seems more like a scam, especially with lines like "This is a multi-billion dollar opportunity."

My wristwatch has more processing power than the first computers. /. Ran an article on a wristwatch that runs Linux. The ultimate CyberGeek I know had LCD glasses (prototype), Nintendo gloves, and a book sized unit that made Xbernaut look archaic. Not to mention full time wireless hookup to the net. While Cringely discounts 'incremental' changes, in ten years that's going to be reduced down to contacts, a wrist wrap (nerve sensors), and something the size of a pager. Hopefully running on an ethanol fuel cell.

For my $.03 CDN, the reversible switch is probably a better bet, as it allows 3D 'chips', without the heat problems. Quantum is still a ways off. And Rolltronics is going nowhere.

What about the yield percentage? (1)

AFCArchvile (221494) | more than 13 years ago | (#495170)

There's a specific amount of chips that don't make it due to being defective right off the wafer. Wouldn't this process increase the percentage of defective chips?

How this could be bad (3)

Leknor (224175) | more than 13 years ago | (#495172)

Cringley says that the battery will be intergrated into the stamping procedure. This could be _really_ bad in my opinion becuase once the battery runs out so would the "computer".

Lets say you pay for this month's Wired and comes via a wafer-computer. You read it and enjoy the interactive articles and eyecandy. Life seems that much cooler.

Next month you want to re-read that artice. Too bad the battery is dead. Now you gotta pay for last months issue again.

This seem like too much control over content I paid for. We are already bitching about DVD region encoding. At least DVD's don't expire.


Imagine.... (1)

kenthorvath (225950) | more than 13 years ago | (#495173)

Smart toilet paper! How many transistors can fit on double quilted Charmin?

Newspaper processor printing presses... (1)

TWX_the_Linux_Zealot (227666) | more than 13 years ago | (#495174)

and if you look at the quality of newsprint and how much the newspaper costs, it's no wonder that they don't charge more than 50 cents for most daily papers...

I want my processor to actually have functioning intricate fine detail, not offset printing...

"Titanic was 3hr and 17min long. They could have lost 3hr and 17min from that."

Holy shizzat (1)

WickedClean (230550) | more than 13 years ago | (#495175)

I know where e-machines will be buying their motherboards now. Sounds hokey to me.

Fab Speeds Not Everything (1)

Fatal0E (230910) | more than 13 years ago | (#495176)

I'm sure when you can buy a machine that can do a couple million mips for $20 ubiquity will result but the number of transistors and raw processing power needed for all the star trek stuff getting them churned out en masse wont help.

yeah i know about parallelism but we still need push Moore's Law some more
"Me Ted"

I want the first one! (1)

Orifice (239264) | more than 13 years ago | (#495178)

So I can install it on my Ginger.

Funny comment (1)

Orifice (239264) | more than 13 years ago | (#495179)

I'd like to make some amusing, slightly funny comment which relates the printed plastic computer concept to an annoying property of some household consumer item. While I'm at it, I'll throw in something about Linux, and possibly nanotechnology. Okay, fill in the details yourself.

Re:Innovator's Dilemma (1)

Orifice (239264) | more than 13 years ago | (#495180)

Cringely completely fails to take into account the rise of nano-bots. According to most technology pundits, it's pretty much a certainty that within five years all computers will be manufacutured by nano-bots, will be so small as to be invisible, and will be so efficient that they are powered by ambient light. Taking this into account, who cares about a printing press computer that is a quarter inch thick?

Re:Funny as hell... (1)

Orifice (239264) | more than 13 years ago | (#495181)

Ah.. but not when you're operating your Ginger in underwater mode. Bandwidth will be severely limited in deep-sea operations.

Re:Doing the math (2)

cube farmer (240151) | more than 13 years ago | (#495184)

Assuming they can print at 300dpi (which I believe is high for mass printing) on 8inx11in media

Commercial-grade printing starts at about 1200 dpi and goes up to around 2400 dpi fairly inexpensively. Assuming similar characterstics of absorption and viscosity with the materials being contemplated here, the actual print density would be more like:


Or roughly 127 million dots per page.

does it actually exist? (1)

ryusen (245792) | more than 13 years ago | (#495187)

Is this something that they've actually built or are they talking pipe dream? i mean if they want it rolling out in 5 years they'd better atleast have a working prototype or something... also exactly what is this thing going to do/be?
is it a full power laptop? is it going to be a new fancy ten-tablet... like a palm on growth hormones?

Re:Sorry...But I have to say these two things? (1)

sporktoast (246027) | more than 13 years ago | (#495188)

Crack wouldn't make it look that bad. Gotta be MS Frontpage or something.

Let's see ... View Source:

<meta name="Microsoft Theme" content="inmo3 111, default"> ... <!--webbot bot="Navigation" ... > ... <!-- MSFPhover = (((navigator.appName == "Netscape") ... >

Yup, he's wacked out on FrontPage.

Re:Why do you all do it? (1)

pkesel (246048) | more than 13 years ago | (#495189)

It's not an American thing, it's an ignorant American thing. Typing as the standard mode of conversation has exposed the sorry nature of grammar and spelling in the US. Sadly though, most offenders are too ignorant to be embarrassed.

The RAMBUS Angle :) (1)

mikethegeek (257172) | more than 13 years ago | (#495192)

What will these guys do in 5 years when a RAMBUS (the company with a lawyer to engineer ratio of 500 to 1) head lawyer claims that they own all the patents on the microprocessor, and on printing presses and demands royalties?

Re:Not newspaper.. low circulation magazines (1)

Faulty Dreamer (259659) | more than 13 years ago | (#495193)

everyone isn't going to be buying a computer every day, week, or month.
And for those that do I'm sure the subscription rate would be a lot lower than buying each new processor seperately!

For a limited time, get 24 months of new processors delivered to your door for the low rate of just $15,000 dollars! That's right, our bi-weekly issues can be had at the low low rate of just....

*POOF* Sorry, sometimes the sugar and caffiene get to me.

Re:Hardly (1)

travis77 (261826) | more than 13 years ago | (#495194)

What about our job security? I dont know about you but if grandma can build an enterprise network why is she going to pay for a geek? Travis

Hmmmm (1)

tethal91 (263165) | more than 13 years ago | (#495195)

I have read so many articles predicting the death of this industry or that technique...the only one I remember being partially right was on about 16 years ago forecasting the birth of fiber optic backbones for telecommunications. And even then, the copper networks are still here, plaguing our ability to get high speed access and video-on-demand. Think about all the predictions we've seen: the PC isn't dead, Windows isn't dead, Unix isn't dead, the internal combustion engine isn't dead, agri-business isn't dead, the world didn't end on Y2K. Doomsayers will go right on predicting the end of this or that...and we'll go right on living. Evolution is as evolution does.

Photons rather then electrons, perhaps? (1)

Giggles Of Doom (267141) | more than 13 years ago | (#495197)

As they seem to want to make them out of transparent plastic, wouldn't it be logical to try using photonic transisters rather then electronic ones?
After all, it seems that most of the arguements placed here are conserns about electron lag (the huge distances they have to travel), heat, and power consumption. Photons offer a possible solution to these problems, even if the technology is a ways off. They don't produce much heat, they use less power, and they travel easier.
Another consern is the detail you can get with this press process. I think we may all have the printing press metophor on our brain. I don't think they will be whipping these things off like they do newspapers. There wouldn't really be a need to make hundreds of thousands a day. By slowing down the process you can acchive more detail. For example, look at the deatail your laser printer can produce vs that of newsprint.

-Giggles of Doom
"See Tokyo Tower over there? Go get it for me."

Re:Not bad, but unneccessary (1)

Polo_Pony_Guy (307113) | more than 13 years ago | (#495198)

You're assuming that client-end technologies need to be developed further. I know this is a bit cliched, but it's true nevertheless: In future, distributed computing will be taken to the next level.

Products like Zope [] and Modsnake [] , as well as propreitry solutions like Allaire's ColdFusion and Vignettes' Story Server, will enable applications to be distributed via networked computers. This will allow current technology to run applications of tommorrow without huge infrastructure upgrades.

The good news is that this method of application development saves time, too. So you can spend time on things you consider more important than application development/information systems - like feeding your polo ponies or brushing their manes, etc etc.

Just my 2c

Rolltronics (1)

Beefcake the Mighty (307199) | more than 13 years ago | (#495199)

All these guys do is provide a substrate that is impermeable to H2O and air so the polymer FETs don't degrade. Untill now, the only alternative was glass to provide a decent barrier. A page-sized die will probably never yeild a microprocessor because electrons can only travell so far in a clock cycle, and syncronizing pulses across even a P4 die is no simple trick. The real neat trick in this story comes from a compnay called Alien Technology. They make silicon transistors, dissolve the substarte and float them in solution. They then take a plastic roll (I think they work with rolltronics) that has holes for the transitors etched into it by UV exposure. The solution flows over and the little guys stick in the holes. They claim a decent fill rate, probably good enough for displays, and all that remains is to inkjet on the traces to link 'em all together.
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