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HOME > PAST ISSUE > March-April 2009 > Article Detail

FEATURE ARTICLE

The Long-lived Transistor

The basic unit of the computer revolution has changed in form, material and fabrication, but nothing has come along in half a century to displace it

Robert W. Keyes

Figure%201.%20A%20replica%20of%20the%20first%20transistorClick to Enlarge ImageThe basic unit of a computer’s ability to compute is the transistor: a tiny device that acts like a switch to turn a current on and off, representing a “1” or “0” in the computer’s memory. This device has undergone massive transformation since its first incarnation, and it now manufactured by the millions on a single silicon wafer. As Robert Keyes describes, there have been new technologies, such as optical computers, that work well in the lab but cannot take the rigors of mass production. He details why the transistor has outlived many other computing techniques and will likely continue to do so for some time.


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