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The "Future Technology" of more than 40 years ago: the 1977 Hewlett-Packard computer hid mysterious transparent chips

2024-05-30 Update From: SLTechnology News&Howtos shulou NAV: SLTechnology News&Howtos > IT Information >


Shulou( Report--, December 21 (Xinhua)-- computer historian and chip reverse engineering enthusiast Ken Shirriff recently discovered a transparent chip while dismantling a 1977 Hewlett-Packard computer. The chip is made of sapphire substrate and belongs to silicon sapphire integrated circuit (silicon-on-sapphire IC).

Surprisingly, this chip that looks like the technology of the future is not a secret weapon in a supercomputer, but a supporting component on a floppy disk controller connected to the Hewlett-Packard interface bus (HP-IB) and a Z80 processor.

After research, Shirriff explained that the silicon sapphire chip, located under the chip cover called PHI (processor-to-HP-IB interface), was used in a variety of Hewlett-Packard products to handle bus protocols and buffering data between interface buses and device microprocessors.

Silicon sapphire sounds avant-garde, but Shirriff's blog points out that the chip-making technology has been around since 1963 or even earlier. A famous example is the RCA 1802 processor used in the Galileo probe used to study Jupiter and its moons, which also uses silicon sapphire technology.

Shirriff also details some of the unique features of silicon sapphire, such as the sapphire substrate is an insulator that effectively isolates the silicon regions on it. This structure "reduces the capacitance between transistors, thereby improving performance". In addition, the insulation of sapphire protects against stray current and protects the circuit from low impedance short circuit and radiation, which is why it is used in the above space electronics applications.

All in all, Shirriff thinks the silicon sapphire chip is "very interesting as an example of 'future technology', but it's not really popular." noted that Shirriff also compared the power consumption and clock speed of processors made from silicon sapphire and ordinary silicon in the late 1970s, and silicon sapphire integrated circuits were far superior in these areas. If these transparent chips can be mass-produced with higher yield and lower manufacturing cost, history may be rewritten. One surprising statistic highlighted by Shirriff is that Hewlett-Packard's silicon sapphire rate is only 9 per cent.

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