IBM is kicking off its IBM Think 2018 conference this week with "5 in 5," a collection of IBM Research's inventions and technologies "that could change our lives over the next five years." If you want to hear a large corporation tell you about AI, blockchain and quantum computing all in the same breath, IBM Think sounds like the place to be.
It's a little difficult to get the technology out of buzzwords, but, happily, Mashable discovered this gem: IBM is building the smallest computer in the world. The details are still scarce, we may learn more this week, but there is enough information to get excited.
The computer measures 1 mm x 1 mm, is smaller than a sophisticated grain of salt and apparently costs less than ten cents of manufacture. To be clear, the image above is a set of 64 motherboards, each of which contains two of this small computer. Here is a real photo of a computer alone in a pile of salt for the scale:
In comparison, the last "smallest computer in the world" that caused a stir was the Michigan Mote of Michigan in 2015, which measured an enormous 2 mm wide.
From the point of view of the features, the computer has a processor with "several hundred thousand" transistors, SRAM memory, a photovoltaic cell for power and a communications unit that uses an LED and a photodetector to talk to the outside world .
IBM claims that the computer has the power of an x86 chip from 1990. That puts it exactly at the limit of sufficient power to run the original Doom (Doom's original README.TXT says that a 386 processor and 4MB of RAM is the minimum ). We hope that IBM will be more communicative with the benchmarks in the next five years, and I am willing to reuse the LED of this chip as a one pixel screen.
The actual IBM application for this chip seems to focus mainly on supply chain management and security protection: enter the "blockchain" rumor. The chip is just one of the many "encryption anchors" that IBM is developing for this purpose.
While we await more details about IBM's plans for the smallest computer (or, like, a name to call it), here are some close-up images of what the transistors look like: