A geek’s best friend?

The Hope Diamond gets it's deep blue colour from it's boron impurities. The boron not only gives the diamond a beautiful colour but it also makes the diamond semi-conductive. (Photo by Chip Clark, copyright Smithsonian Institute)

The Hope Diamond gets it’s deep blue colour from it’s boron impurities. The boron not only gives the diamond a beautiful colour but it also makes the diamond semi-conductive. (Photo by Chip Clark, copyright Smithsonian Institute)

You might know diamonds as a girls best friend but it might soon become a geeks best friend as well. Diamonds promise to replace silicon as the material to build computers from maybe even within the next ten years.

There are a lot of advantages to using diamond over silicon. Most obvious being strength. We all know Diamond to be the strongest (natural) material we have. This is great news for accident prone people who happen to drop their laptop on the floor every once in a while. Though the hard drive might still suffer unless we all adopt (diamond) flash drives.

This is not only true for mechanical energy but diamonds can also resist high temperatures. Where your average silicon chip gets damaged/destroyed at a temperature between 100ºC to 150ºC Diamonds could operate at 1000ºC perhaps (though currently chips running at ‘just’ 500ºC are being designed) eliminating or reducing the need for expensive cooling systems which use up a lot of power in conventional systems. The higher temperature of diamonds also allows chips to run at greater speeds then currently possible. A test had a diamond chip run at 81GHz a gigantic leap from what is possible with current technology.

Other lesser known advantages being that diamond is a good electrical insulator and better at dissipating heat then copper. The excellent qualities of heat dissipation compound to the effects described above.

Example of noise in digital photography. Image is brightened to make the noise more visible. (Van der Coelen CC BY).

Example of noise in digital photography. Image is brightened to make the noise more visible. (Van der Coelen, CC BY).

The electric insulation decreases the likelihood of current ‘jumping’ from one lane to the other (this is the noise you see in digital photography in dark conditions for instance). Better yet is that by adding certain atoms (impurities) like boron you can actually make diamond a semi-conductor allowing you to make an entire chip from diamond without the need of other materials.

For now the cost of diamond chips is still biggest hurdle it still is higher than that of silicon and will need to come down before we will see them in computers. It will most likely first be used in super computers and slowly trickle down to consumer oriented computers. We will first see hybrid computers with only a few specialised chips of diamond before entire diamond systems will become available. I, however, can’t wait until they do.