This teeny-tiny computer is smaller than a grain of salt, but matches a PC from 1990
At the back of your mind, you may remember Tiny Computers – a British PC manufacturer that sold desktop computers to the home market from 1996. As this was the 90s, the computers in question were, in fact, anything but small. If the company hadn’t shut up shop in 2002, it would likely be facing some existential questions about what makes a genuinely tiny computer today, as IBM revealed the world’s smallest, measuring just 1x1mm – or roughly the size of a grain of salt.
Interestingly, the comparison to a now-defunct 90s PC manufacturer doesn’t end there: in power terms, this is closer to something from that era than the latest chips powering even the most basic of smartphones today. In fact, IBM say it’s about as powerful of the x86 chip from 1990. Why would that be useful in 2018? Well, chiefly because it’s both small and cheap (it costs less than ten cents to make one), these can be packed into all kinds of things where you wouldn’t expect to find a computer.
“Within the next five years, cryptographic anchors — such as ink dots or tiny computers smaller than a grain of salt — will be embedded in everyday objects and devices,” said IBM head of research Arvind Krishna. “They’ll be used in tandem with blockchain’s distributed ledger technology to ensure an object’s authenticity from its point of origin to when it reaches the hands of the customer.
“These technologies pave the way for new solutions that tackle food safety, authenticity of manufactured components, genetically modified products, identification of counterfeit objects and provenance of luxury goods.”
The chip is said to have “several hundred thousand transistors,” which isn’t bad for a computer that you’d struggle to spot in a stack of salt, let alone a haystack. In a world where the fashion for smartphones is moving towards the large end of the scale, it’s nice to see that someone is pursuing making things impossibly small.