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How Printable Computers Will Work 151

Gart points to this article on printable computers, an "Illustrated narrative [that] shows how users will simply download microchip designs from the Internet and print out a working ink-based, plastic processor on a desktop fabrication machine, similar to an ink jet printer." This is a nicely lucid account, and straightforward about the reasons that you probably won't start printing out a new motherboard this evening. Still, a glimpse of the future; this is one technology it will be cool to watch emerge from vapor.
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How Printable Computers Will Work

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  • by Anonymous Coward
    Um... E-Paper is little plastic balls in oil held inside very small bubble wrap. I don't think there are very many ways to make electrical connections in that model.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    So in a few years time my 19" Server Rack will be full of paper...kewl
    Babes for the geek: []
  • This won't take off unless the machine can make much more interesting things than single chips. 99% of the world has no interest in hardware hacking.

  • I remember seeing articles and discussions about open source hardware here on /. With this process, such an idea could easily come to fruition. People could develop their own platforms based on their own model, or a model they downloaded and modified to their ends.
    Just like GNU or BSD software, and what have you.

    Of course, there'll be the shareware hardware, where someone will want to charge $15 for crap that doesn't work. Imagine the license agreement - "Please send $15 to: xxx, or this hardware will self-destruct in 30 days."

    But really, the open source hardware idea would work here. People with an interest in hardware could really get down to the nitty gritty and see how things work.
  • Four.
  • The person giving the seminar (her name escapes me right now) pointed out that right now, the electron mobilities in these materials prevents you from making fast devices. She envisioned eventually getting them up to monitor frequencies (a few kHz).

    Her joke on the matter was that right now, they might be able to print out a 60 Hz Pentium. Don't expect high speed electronic systems from this stuff in the near future.

    Besides, a better use for these materials might be in photovoltaics, if they can make junctions that undergo photoelectric effect in the infrared.
  • Oh dear.. gives 'cybersex' a whole new meaning ..
  • A just looked at Amazon and didn't find any book that fitted your description. Can you tell me the name of the author - or, much better: the ISBN?

  • The name is actually "A For Anything", now I found it at Amazon, the author is Damon Knight, published by Cascade Mountain Publishing; ISBN: 1892884011.

  • How about a self printing printer! You don't even need to design it, because it'll design and print itself!
  • And he whines about the cost of the Tektronix ink. Wait until he sees this stuff.
  • the future won't hold motherboards because they are too clumsy. Think about it, all it does is connect _usefull_ things (videocard, memory, etc), but in itself it has no value. Designs and silicon, able to connect wirelessly or maybe with a few connectors is going to do the job.
  • I think this is rather important. What really made the open source software movement take off was the fact that it had a very very low barrier of entry. Anyone at all could sit down and write code and contribute to the project. Open Source Hardware (imho) won't work until anyone can d/l the source, tinker a bit and play with it.

    ... And this is the perfect vehicle to let people do that. Sure we can't develop then next x86 processor with this technology. But the geek down the road might have a hunk of plastic that he's developed to control the lights in your house, or a new USB you plug into your computer that appears as some neato device.
  • Assuming ubiquitous printer technology capable of printing even primitive logic circuits, how hard could it be (with the right "ink" and paper) to print off some completely convincing Federal Reserve Notes?

    Or am I just slow on the uptake?
  • Disregard parent post... I was trying something and never meant to post it.
  • It's much more high-level, but CNN [] has an article [] on this as well.
  • Remember that story about Open Source hardware [] awhile ago? Many of the comments said that this would be too expensive because of manufacturing costs. Perhaps this story provides hope that this may eventually be a reality.
  • .1mm thick inkjet lines? I'm guessing u can't use a laser printer type thing since you'd melt the plastic.

    So how big will our chips be?

    And, are we buying a licence to print the processor, does the actual processor belong to us, and are we allowed to print duplicates when the dog eats the 1st one?

  • Now we trade music and movies over the net, the next thing will be trading hardware!
    Download your own bootleg PS2!
    Companies that deal in information, anything that can be represented in 1s and 0s are freaking out because it is so damned easy to trade their precious property on the net (or it will be really soon).
    With this sort of technology what's to stop us from trading bootlegged schematics across the net? Hardware manufactures won't be safe anymore.
    To project into the future with nanotech ala "The Diamond Age", NOTHING is safe. Why should you bother to buy the PS2-equivilent when you can just download bootlegged specs from Gnutella and have your army of nanos crank it out?
    The future will be interesting on so many levels...

  • They are talking about achieving a 25 micron feature size. The current generation of processors is being done with an 0.13 micron feature size, meaning that the number of gates you can fit on your plastic chip is about 40000 (200 times 200) times lower.

    Still, if they can get one transistor in 25 microns square, and handle all the wiring in other layers:

    * The original 68000 (with 68,000 transistors) fits in a 6.5 by 6.5 mm square.
    * The original 80386 (with 275,000 transistors) fits in a 13.1 by 13.1 mm square.
    * The original 80486 (1.2M transistors) needs 27.4 by 27.4 mm (just over a square inch). Once we get to this stage a lot of the transistors are L1 cache.

    Unfortunately, the definition of "feature size" is not the minimum width or length of a transistor, but instead the smallest dimension that can be reliably fabricated on a chip. On digital ICs, the feature size refers to the minimum gate length. The actual transistor, when factoring in total gate and source/drain diffusion areas, is much larger than the square of the feature size.

    To estimate how much area it would take to port a microprocessor to this printing process, the best approximation is to scale the area of the original chip by the ratio of (25 um / (x) um)^2, where (x) is the original feature size. The original 80486 die was 0.414 inches by 0.649 inches with a feature size of 0.8 um. The "printed" 80486 would therefore be 12.94 inches by 20.28 inches! Furthermore, it would be much slower than the "old" 80486 because of the lower mobility and much higher capacitance of the transistors. You would be lucky to clock it at 1 MHz.

    Although this printing process would be great for low power embedded applications (e.g. "smart" wallpaper, giant displays, ultra-cheap dumb terminals, throwaway sensors, etc.), you'll never get the kind of high-performance computing you'd expect from a laptop or desktop, or even a Palm PDA for that matter. Performance-wise, this process will never compete with traditional silicon and submicron lithography, although it will find some useful and profitable applications.
  • might dwarf the performance of single-layer silicon

    Until it went up in a big poof of smoke from the heat... How do you cool a 3d IC, made out of paper (not a good heat conductor) no less?
  • Don't they make iron-on transfers for printers nowadays? Let's combine the two technologies and create ready-to-wear computers!

  • It would come in handy right about now to print me out a boot blocker so I could watch DTV. The plans for building one is on the net, but i can't fab a PCB so i'm going to have to buy one off some company that did fab them. The thing that kills me is there are about $20 worth of components on these things that sell for $100.

    I could be printing up a whole bunch for everyone i know.. sweeeeeeeeet.
  • And now, the truly 1337 can overclock before the fab!
  • Why not get semiconductor tatoo ink?
  • Is this a joke? Cause I'm left here thinking man thats what everyone was saying when I first got into computing. No one will ever have one of these in their home they are to big/expensive. I don't know about any of the other self proclaimed geeks out there but I can't wait to get my hands on something like this. It may be just out of my reach right now but I'm sure I won't have to wait more than a couple of years before I will be able to purchase one. Soon we could have true open source computing everything from your Motherboard to your software could be open sourced. It makes me all gitty thinking about it.
  • stop it know

    That's funny. your user info page says "Please donate your used, reliable PCs and Macs to independent journalists here []". We should stop that, because it "will destroy the need for a computer hardware insdustry in certain sectors."

    Also, this designs could be open-sourced.. That would be nice.


  • Wouldn't this lead to the ultimate overclockable machine? If you can replace the parts every day, every hour, every minute, or heck, just have the thing constantly regenerate itself, you could run WAY over spec and not care.

    That might be expensive, but if that wasn't a concern....
  • It's nice to see that 3D printing is in the news again. Last I heard was a group who had made various electronic components from ceramic. This is definately a trend a lot of us hardware engineers and general geeks may want to look at. Although there are the definate limitations of material and how practical cost will be for something that can print at such a low level I'm sure that this could be very viable within 20 years.
    | aim: | bagel is back |
    | icq: | 158450 |
  • To keep killing trees. Way to go!
  • Argh.. nevermind. I was misled by the summary. It's imprinted on plastic, not paper.
  • I would guess that this would have all kinds of support from the prp-Open Source side of the world. Printing up your own usually implies the ability, no matter the difficulty, to modify and individualize, which is what open source is all about, right?
  • Does such a thing exist yet? Just imagine a completely free computer, from hardware to software. Sure, it might cost the price of a piece of circuit paper or whatever it will be called and the circuit ink. If the prices of such materials ever approached that of regular deskjet-like ink and paper... we would live in a perfect techie world of free hardware and software, through and through. Costing pennies on the dollar to make another copy.

    A printed CPU with a printed flatscreen display, printed speakers, keyboard, pointer device, and a nice install of GNU/Linux. All downloaded from the web. All GPL'ed.
  • Not printable batteries, printable solar cells would make energy free too by converting abundant solar energy to electricity.
  • Uhhh... actually, I would have my walls simulate an environment: Playboy Mansion.
  • true... true dat
  • Problem with printing circuits on paper is that they will generate alot of heat and cooling the bitch will be hard. Water cooling a paper board and now your left with a soggy board. People will be having fires in the computers everywhere!
  • /me clears his throat.




  • I think that this technolgy would be nice. But, I don't think that the quallity and the practical power of the printed circits would be what the user really wants. Power and performance wise.

    However, this might be a great product for the do-it-yourself electronics guru. I would have a hay-day printing out my own circits and testing them. My hands are too shaky at times and soldering can be difficult. Most notably before the daily intake of caffeine. Trying to get those surface mount electronics on the board, man, those are hard to do!

  • actually no, they couldn't do that. Cease functioning maybe. Explode and damage other property, we call that a BOMB.
  • Yeah instead of downloading the piece of hardware you wanted, you get a robot intent on beating the living crap out of you!

    "Hey wait a minute, I didn't download the newest heavyweight Battle Bot model. YAARAARRRRRRggggGGGGG!"

  • HA! Do that and the crackhead [] will slap you with a cease-and-desist letter faster than you can say "foo []"!!
  • HA! Do that and the crackhead [] will slap you with a cease-and-desist letter faster than you can say "foo []"!!
  • This should have been one of the perils in the prior article on over-clocking.

    Not only do you risk ruining your CPU, but now if you overclock your video card, you could melt your CPU! :)

    wonder what it'll do for recycling - hitech and lotech plastic recyclables.
  • I've been printing computers and then building them during class for the last few weeks. I get them from the Paper Mac [] page, and print them out with my laser printer. Then I take them to class and, while the teacher is babbling dumb stuff about what she has done with computers, I build macs. I've got a small army of them collecting here...
  • Still, if they can get one transistor in 25 microns square, and handle all the wiring in other layers:

    • The original 80386 (with 275,000 transistors) fits in a 13.1 by 13.1 mm square.

    It turns out that it's much worse than this. The minimum feature size gives you the minimum gate width you can use (if you're lucky). A transistor, contacts and all, takes up easily ten times this in both directions (after spacing rules and so forth have been taken into account).

    Speed is also inversely proportional to the square of the feature size. Going from 0.25 micron to 25 micron slows you down by a factor of about 10,000 (give or take). You'll end up with microchip wallpaper that runs at 50 kHz.

    There are uses for this (big active displays comes to mind), but computers aren't one of them.
  • I have a name to suggest for this: Breadboards!

    Neat, huh?

  • Picture people jumping out of windows of call centers. "What kind of graphics card do you have?" "Uh.. well, it's a Voodoo 5 base design, but my friend added another texture unit, and then we kinda played with the blending mode logic..."
  • Now there's a strange thought.. presumably, condoms would be a workable substrate for circuits.

    "Um... no... that's not a webcam printed on my condom, or something.."
  • Just because you can doesn't mean you should.
  • There could be a licensing agreement, but how do you track pirated hardware?

    There seems to be a new trend to have software contact a company's servers to see if it's been pirated or not. Hardware could do the same, and if it's pirated it could explode and leave an inky mess all over just like the capsules banks put in with stolen money.
  • Hush. Somebody will figure it out. :)
  • Sure, I'll pick it up from my parents house tonight and post the author. There is a small chance that I misremembered the name and it's 'A' for Anything, but I was pretty sure I remember it as being an odd title because it didn't match up.

  • Good question. I don't think the book ever addressed the point of Land ownership at all...
    And it didn't really occure to me until you mentioned it that Land really should be the most valuable item in a society like that... I think I'll reread the book tommorow and see if they mentioned it while I wasn't paying attention.

  • Surely, if you're "printing" a chip, even of today's standards of size, you're still looking at the printer moving the substrate along minute amounts to get the design right. It would probably take several days...
  • The article says we can expect roughly 1/100 the speed of current silicon. I guess that means CPU's with 500khz - 1Mhz clock speed. The kind of machines that started the PC era.
    At the same time, we're seeing a strong attack on the programmable, user-controlled computer by the Intellectual Property cartel. Maybe we'll end up using CP/M on 1979-vintage machines because the current crop of hardware is too locked-down and tamperproof. A machine like that could be open-sourced and downloaded from the internet.
    On the flip side, I see many possibilities for abuse. Manufacturers could build flat computers into cereal boxes, shipping labels, even software packaging. Lots of places to monitor, advertise, and present license agreements. Lots of stuff that quietly 'phones home'.
    Is it good or bad on the balance? Doesn't matter - nobody can roll back technology.
  • For some reason when you said Trojan hardware I imagined a condom with "chips" printed onto them. Oh the possibilities there.
  • Yeah, then we would have to put up with script kiddies writing VBScripts that add unwanted anchovies to those aforementioned pizzas.
  • Getting the transistors to work in this process is important, but there's lots of other stuff that needs to be considered to build a full CPU.

    What about the metal interconnect? Aluminum or copper... or not metal at all? What about metal layers and via's? What kind of package will this "die" go into?

    I'm curious as to how they plan to address these issues

  • ....Overclockers could edit their circuits in Photoshop.

    Or maybe the Gimp could have a plugin for printed circuits
  • Apple will be able to simply print out gay-ass color-coordinated Bondi Blue motherboards to stick in their iMacs. Wonderful.
  • I haven't read it in years, but I seem to remember in Clarke's "The City and the Stars" a passage regarding the village "foundry". Every village had some sort of self-contained "millworks" about the size of a refrigerator that produced "useful devices" (my quotes). Can my recollection be any more vague? Anyone have a copy on hand to refer to?
  • You realise that all that hardware that has all of that copy protection built in goes right buy the boards when anyone can create and print out un-authorized devices to do unauthorized things.

    Come to think of it, this moves computer technolgy, such as creating machines to do "x, y, or z" into a freedom of the press realm.

    The petty little potentates pop paranoia and profiteering must be trembling in hooror at this, once they figure it out and see it coming down the road.

    This could be fun!

  • Thinking out loud here... If a CPU or board design can be expressed in a printer markup language under this scheme, then I believe it would be possible to translate that description into plain english. Or a suitably different reverse-engineered piece of hardware could be described this way. It could be expressed out loud on street corners in songs or poetry or t-shirts. (Just like what happened with DeCSS.) Only free speech would be used to distribute hardware. Great for spreading not only the word but the means of useful hardware to the masses.

    Now, granted, these would be pretty screwed up songs. And pretty long! And I guess haiku is out of the question. But in theory, this could lead to free-speech-like implications that the hardware industry may not have had to deal with yet.

    Sing me a song, you're the VLSI man...
  • It's seems very unlikely that we would have a future where every single home user would download the new AMD Athlon K399 1 Billion MHz, although I must say that the idea of me going to my computer resaler, and having _them_ print a copy (no more "out of stock" replies") would be really cool.
  • Hey, it was just a dream. Not everything always makes perfect sense in a dream.

    But good idea. Ooops... bad idea. We don't want this to actually happen.
  • One of the most exciting applications for printable electronics is creating a wallpaper that doubles as a television screen or computer monitor.

    I can't wait to have a 10x8 foot monitor! I'll scare the heck out of my neighbors with life-size Q3A!

  • It'll raise the level of computer literacy by a notch. Not only will it be divided into the standard 2 groups:

    Can program VCR
    Cannot program VCR

    The Can program VCR group will be divided into

    Can read PCB
    Cannot read PCB

    Joking aside, it wouldn't be difficult to, like a script kiddy, just download blueprints and get yourself a homebrew mp3 player, but how can you 'trust' such kits, implicitly, any more than you can trust software?

    Mostly it should be okay, but the odd virus here and there could wreak havoc on someone. So a new class of 'anti-trojan' software, as well as more literacy in computer skills in general, needs to taught.

    I would like to have a private fab and rapid prototype lab in my garage. That would be muy nifto.


    Geek dating! []
  • Open source, man!

    I spend time and effort to develop a car Ogg player and GPS receiver.

    I am part of a group of people who have similar interests, so we all share our variations on the designs, LCD or display implementations, voice activated, IR, bluetooth, etc.

    Over a period of months or years, we all have in car dash Ogg players, GPS recievers with voice activation and other random stuff.

    Other people take this and adapt it to Visor handspring modules

    They add power saving and cycling functions, or something. Or they make it smaller.

    Feedback occurs, and the indash unit becomes smaller. We get enough space to add more features.

    Back and forth.

    Isn't this how the Open Source model works?

    Geek dating! []
  • It does lend new meaning to the phrase "cutting a project"


  • "The fab jammed again..."

    "Is there a jam?"

    " says it's out of toner?"
  • But if the printer could do a 3-d chip, and you could adequately cool such a chip, then a pentium class chip is possible.

    Anyways, it might be possible to do a mini-cluster of cpus to give the same power. If "printing" hardware becomes cheap, I'm guessing the computer designs will adapt. Maybe, instead of a localized cpu/memory/etc, the components would be integrated. Imagine a "motherboard" with each square inch of it being its own cpu/memory. There would be no seperate vid/sound/modem cards, just the appropriate connects on the edge of the board. Rather spiffy.

  • I think the important uses of these won't be in the home. Let's face it, enough the cleverest of us don't yet have enough specialist knowledge, nor the design to print our own circuit boards at great expense.

    The biggest use of these is likely to be in units that have to travel to places where getting replacement hardware is difficult. Such as extraterrestrial expeditions, or armies at war on earth. Combine this technology with a fabber and you can build whatever replacements you like when things break.

    The far ahead possibilities include virally spreading across the universe using fabbers that build more fabbers...

  • I wonder if E-Paper could be adapted to form circuit boards.. Download the chip, plug it into your e-paper, watch it assemble itself. I bet it could be done.
  • The headlines:
    2010 eGates hardware over throws governments
    2012 eGates hardwar controls 90% of the internet
    2013 TuxBoard Manufacturing, ESR CEO started in conjunction with the GNU Project has begun. The EG Supercomputerweb laughs.
    2013 People sick of having their homes burn down try TuxBoard Manufacturing out of curiosity and hope
    2014 EG SCW now scared. FUD attacks: TuxBoards don't burn down, they must not be capable of the high-level processing.
    2015 Cox on a Chip capable of making eGates hardware work without burn out and without the need for Windows 9000 XPIJFLSFN
    2016 Helsinki almost nuked, but bombs fail to go off, and land 300mi out of range...hardware failure.
    2018 Redmond uprising attempts to overthrow EG SCW
    2020 After the 100 GHZ war, Linus Torvalds reigns as occaissionally benevolent emperor over 98% of the world.
    2021 New Zealand finally ready to cater to AmigaSketch users.
    2024 Massive solar flare damages most of the computer world.
    2025 Etchasketch becomes popular
    2026 Printable punch cards arrive on the outskirts of the remaining ecivilization.
    2027 Last Beowulf cluster dies in captivity.
    2028 Torvalds frozen and displayed for all to look at.
    3028 Cockroaches and lawyers wonder why there is a frozen person on the European continent. Lawyers wonder if he has money (which looks a lot like punch cards)
    3030 The Troll Niscenus and a band of AnonCows re-establish world order with a central hub of infromation they call DotSlash.

    So, who's up for volleyball?
  • I can only assume we'll need Cox on a Chip to write the drivers for the new e-paper.
    I don't think we'll see printers sketching 8-atom wide paths on unborn microchips, ever.
    A) The "printer" would cost way to much for any common use.
    B) Have you seen the size of the machines that currently do this? They're ENIAC, hyperbolicly speaking.
    C) By the time anyone gets this going, computer will be communicating on their boards and processors with 8bit light streams rather than electonic anything...err, not that I know anything. If Century Tel didn't buy GTE from Verizon, you wouldn't not know anything either.

    I usually get turned into a troll everytime I say this, but, "Who's up for volleyball!?"
  • I hate to spoil all this dreaming with realism, but you'd really be pushing this technology to make even an 8-bit CPU. (See the third page of the article.) The smallest elements you can print are about 25 micrometers (.001 inch), which is over 100 times the linear dimensions in a modern Pentium chip. And that means the transistors will be 10,000 times the area, and 10,000 times the capacitance. Add the inferior performance of the plastic transistors to the complexity limitation implied by the dimensions, and what you wind up with is something like a 6502, but running at a few KHz...

    There are actually many control applications where a small 8-bitter running at KHz speeds is quite sufficient. But you can buy good 8-bit silicon CPU's for $0.50 to $15 (depending mainly on how many pins you need), and I don't see any chance of these plastic circuits beating those prices.

    What this might be good for is the custom interface circuits that are virtually always needed between the CPU and the world. These usually wind up either as a large number of generic components, soldered onto a fair-sized circuit board, costing perhaps $20 to $100 to utilize a $5 CPU. Or you can use a few programmable logic device chips -- but these cost more than the CPU. So if they can get reasonable price/performance, you might eventually see printed plastic circuits containing the "glue logic" as well as the resistors, capacitors, and ESD-suppressing diodes -- so you just solder on the CPU chip and its ready to go. (But not for a Pentium motherboard -- think about the speed.)

    More realistically, there are many applications where large, low-performance circuits would be ideal. Displays, for instance -- you can etch a wonderful display into a silicon chip, but you need a microscope or a good projection system to read it. Maybe they will soon be able to print the same circuit in plastic at readable size.
  • This wouldn't be suitable for most computing applications, where designing software for a generalized processor would be easier and more effective most of the time.

    But for dedicated and experimental electronics, it'd be golden. Just think how much this would accelerate prototyping and design for BEAM robots [], since you don't have to mess around with soldering bunches of components!

  • Technology Review [] had an article [] about the very same topic months ago. Surprised it didn't hit slashdot then. Well anyway, it is an interesting read as well for anyone who want to hear more.
  • by Kintanon ( 65528 ) on Thursday March 01, 2001 @01:54PM (#391190) Homepage Journal
    This reminds me of a book called "'A' For Everything" where an inventor created a duplicating device. You put the object you want duplicated on one side, and press a button, and a copy comes out on the other side. Within hours almost everyone had one. Within days the economy had reverted to Slaves being the only valuable form of property. From there people figured out how to clone other people using the device and a bizarre slave/owner hierarchy was born. A very interesting book, I recommend it to everyone.

  • by bugg ( 65930 ) on Thursday March 01, 2001 @05:15PM (#391191) Homepage
    You already are [] hardware based mp3 players available for download.

    However, I doubt we'll see any sort of IC fabs capable of producing anything as complicated as say, a 555, on the desktop within the next 50 years. Call me skeptical.

    Electronics buffs, we build stuff that we download, design, read in books, etc. Automation would be getting access to a plotter or a UV rig for making PCB construction much, much easier.

  • by pongo000 ( 97357 ) on Thursday March 01, 2001 @12:41PM (#391192)
    Check it out here []!
  • by OmegaDan ( 101255 ) on Thursday March 01, 2001 @02:28PM (#391193) Homepage
    Its true the density isn't as great, but in this case the medium is just a piece of plastic, not a VERY expensive piece of silicon, so real estate is not a commodity... however it sounds like their switching times are much slower then silicon transistors ... given that and the distance between the resistors growing (because they're less dense) it sounds like the problem will infact be speed.
  • by DickBreath ( 207180 ) on Thursday March 01, 2001 @07:15PM (#391194) Homepage
    I had a dream some months ago.

    Printable PDA's were developed. You could have them printed on the surface of your skin. No more need to wear a wristwatch, you would just print a PDA on your wrist.

    Problem was (in the dream) that they would wear off, and you would have to have them reprinted (Or have a newer better model printed) onto your wrist.

    They became so common that everyone had to have on in order to just carry on daily life, business transactions, etc.

    Poor people couldn't afford $40/mo to print these things on their wrists.

    So good ol' corporate greed stepped in to help. You could get a sponsored low-end PDA printed onto your right hand by agreeing to also have a color animated advertising banner printed across your forehead. Next month, come back, pay homage to corporate greed. Repeat.

    Don't laugh. I really did dream this. (I said, no laughing.)

    Those who can, do. Those who can't, use Windows.
  • by crgrace ( 220738 ) on Thursday March 01, 2001 @02:08PM (#391195)
    handle all the wiring in other layers

    Now that's the real trick, isn't it? In modern integrated circuit design the interconnect uses up more area than the transistors. Even if you could do all the wiring in other layers (by the way, only VERY recently have ICs come out with lots of layers. One or two wiring layers was the standard for YEARS) you would still need lots of vias to move the signals between layers and down to the transistors.

    And as for cost, I just checked MOSIS and if you needed a 6.5mm by 6.5mm square silicon chip fabbed, MOSIS would charge you about $70000 for a lot of 25! Kind of pricey for a 68k processor, don't you think?

    There are a lot of reasons silicon is useful, and I'd be VERY suprised if people started printing chips out on their desks.

  • by perdida ( 251676 ) <thethreatproject&yahoo,com> on Thursday March 01, 2001 @12:28PM (#391196) Homepage Journal
    downloadable and printable hardware, if it develops to fruition, will destroy the need for a computer hardware insdustry in certain sectors.

    the gamers, the kids, everyone who uses their computers as a hot rod and doesn't have mission critical stuff running on them, will pirate hardware.

    There could be a licensing agreement, but how do you track pirated hardware? use it on the Net and it sends out a call signal? I don't think so. Even if it could be traced, people would just set up parallel intranet networks with the stuff instead of using it on the Internet, where cops, et al could track it.

    All in all, opening the doors to terrorists, foreign intelligence agencies, and anybody else who wants to reliably gather information without much expenditure and without being traced.

  • by localroger ( 258128 ) on Thursday March 01, 2001 @03:10PM (#391197) Homepage
    It seems like once they have perfected this tech, a natural extension would be to repeatedly overprint with layers of conductive, nonconductive, and semiconductor ink to create a 3-D circuit. This could go a long way toward offsetting the registration size and natural slowness of the junctions, since you could stack them into a cube. If the layer size is comparable to the junction size, you could end up with breathtaking densities. With good massively parallel architecture such blocks -- they wouldn't be flexible and would probably be more like regular IC's once manufabbed -- might dwarf the performance of single-layer silicon.
  • by localroger ( 258128 ) on Thursday March 01, 2001 @03:05PM (#391198) Homepage
    ...we used CPU's like the 1802 and 8080A with ~2000 transistors, or processors like the HP2100A mini which ran at 150KHz and we were glad to have them. You'd be surprised what you can do with a machine of that scale when you approach it from a sense of the possible rather than a sense of loss. At one time the whole world was run by computers which could probably be implemented right now with this technology, except they cost thousands or millions of dollars instead of pennies.

    Don't underestimate the importance of this.

    I predict one of the earliest practical application will be a real credit-card calculator -- one the same size and thickness as your credit cards. Feature size will probably go down at about the same rate it has for silicon. Remember, back in the 70's feature size on silicon wasn't much better than what these guys are aiming for. And neither was the speed -- remember 4000 series CMOS? Yet these chips were the backbone of all technology when they were expensive.

    This was a good article, well balanced and without a lot of the usual hype about how the tech will result in self-assembling skyscrapers. These people have modest, achievable goals. It will be interesting to see what they do.

  • by Protohiro ( 260372 ) on Thursday March 01, 2001 @12:23PM (#391199)
    This will bring a whole new definition to the word "warez"


  • by blair1q ( 305137 ) on Thursday March 01, 2001 @12:53PM (#391200) Journal
    Cripes, I'm old.

    It must be 20 years ago now that Carver Mead was talking about having a machine on your desk that would fabricate silicon integrated circuits for you.

    Anyone who's seen a fab line knows it's not that simple. The closest anyone came was e-beam lithography, but those machines are still the size of your bathroom, and still only do some of the processes.

    It's pretty interesting to think about printing chip layers like a multi-pass color laser printer.

    But can you imagine the toner-cartridge spam you'll get when there are ten kinds of toner material needed, and some run ten bucks a pass?

    "Dammit! I left my TiVo folded up in my pocket and it went through the wash again..."
  • by Bluedove ( 93417 ) on Thursday March 01, 2001 @02:29PM (#391201) Homepage
    When the ability to create hardware (in the context of digital logic) on the desktop becomes trivial and commonplace, this will be a BOON for long distance space travel!!!

    One of the critical problems for long distance space endevours is what to do when/if you need to replace hardware in your systems when you're far far away from any fab plant. This kind of technology will go a long way to making the problem moot.

  • by Paul the Bold ( 264588 ) on Thursday March 01, 2001 @02:10PM (#391202)
    This article [] has a few more facts about this technology, and its references are from journals like "Science" and "Applied Physics Letters" and "Chemical Review," so you can do some in-depth research if you wish. It's not so complicated that the layman could not read it, and it has some information not covered in the article. I did like some of the pictures in the article.

    The electron mobility in polymers is MUCH lower than Si (a slow semiconductor), a fact that is mentioned in the article, but glossed over on this page. Overclocking these guys still won't get you very far.

    One thing not mentioned is the short shelf life of these things. They tend to degrade in days to weeks, depending on the material.

    I could go on, but I won't. I'm just glad to see this finally out in the popular media.
  • by JoeBuck ( 7947 ) on Thursday March 01, 2001 @01:54PM (#391203) Homepage

    They are talking about achieving a 25 micron feature size. The current generation of processors is being done with an 0.13 micron feature size, meaning that the number of gates you can fit on your plastic chip is about 40000 (200 times 200) times lower.

    Still, if they can get one transistor in 25 microns square, and handle all the wiring in other layers:

    • The original 68000 (with 68,000 transistors) fits in a 6.5 by 6.5 mm square.
    • The original 80386 (with 275,000 transistors) fits in a 13.1 by 13.1 mm square.
    • The original 80486 (1.2M transistors) needs 27.4 by 27.4 mm (just over a square inch). Once we get to this stage a lot of the transistors are L1 cache.

    Trying to get much bigger than this (do the P5 in two inches square) is likely to be a loser because getting the signals across these large chips is going to be slow unless you use enough power to melt the plastic.

    Memory: if you can do one bit in 25 by 25 microns, a square inch (2.54 cm on a side) gives just over one megabit (bits, not bytes). You're probably not going to be running Gnome or KDE on this.

  • by Aggrazel ( 13616 ) <> on Thursday March 01, 2001 @12:31PM (#391204) Journal
    ... until they figure out a way to download and print a Pizza.

    "Hello, Domino's? Can you e-mail me a large pizza with mushrooms and extra cheese?"

    But then, that might bring a whole new meaning to "Spam Mail" ... hmmm
  • by ryanr ( 30917 ) <> on Thursday March 01, 2001 @12:42PM (#391205) Homepage Journal
    I wonder if they realize they are only going to sell a handful of these things... The first guy to get one of these printers is just going to print up more printers for his friends...
  • by ryanr ( 30917 ) <> on Thursday March 01, 2001 @12:37PM (#391206) Homepage Journal
    Trojan hardware.
  • by drivers ( 45076 ) on Thursday March 01, 2001 @12:23PM (#391207)
    In the future... motherboards may be nothing more than layers of nonconducting materials with thin conductors connecting various chips and sockets (into which other boards can be connected). Imagine the possibilities!
  • by 2nd Post! ( 213333 ) <gundbear@ p a c b e> on Thursday March 01, 2001 @12:34PM (#391208) Homepage
    The same way that literacy, pencils, pens, ink, paper, and books destroyed the iron grip of the autocracy and nobility of hundreds of years ago, printable computers can break the grip of monolithic oligarchies dictating hardware and standards to people who don't need them.

    Don't you have any sense of decency, to post such utter garbage in the first place, perdida?

    (go ahead mark me as troll or whatever, it really doesn't matter)

    Geek dating! []
  • by ackthpt ( 218170 ) on Thursday March 01, 2001 @12:33PM (#391209) Homepage Journal
    a copy of Beowulf printed on a cluster of these...


The best defense against logic is ignorance.