Tuesday, April 17, 2007

This Is Where It All Begins..

Genre: Science And Technology

A few years back, I had read a leading sicence magazine saying that the Greatest Invention of The 20th Century is the Transistor and had always wondered why. Now I know the answer and I have every reason to agree to what they said. And after going throught this, you will also be equally convinced.

To straightaway emphasise the importance of this little known tiny device, let me just say this- If the Transistor would have not been discovered, there would be No FM radio, No TV Channels, No Desktop Computers, No Laptops, No Mobile phones, No iPods, No Discmans , no DVD players, no XBox360s and PS2s, no Digicams... well I guess this much itself is enough to send jitters down the spines of any normal human being!

I am sure, by now you must be wondering what is the connection between all these gadgets which are as different from each other as chalk and cheese with a tiny little heard componet called a Transistor? Lets see..

All these gadgets listed above have only two things at the heart of them- RWM (Read Write Memory) and ROM(Read Only Memory), or to be more specific- SRWM and DRWM (Static and Dynamic RWM) and EPROM (Erasable Programmable ROM). In simple words, RWM is where all the working of the gadget takes place while ROM serves as the storage for the data. Apart from the fact that one is rewritable while other is not, the construction of both is very much essentially the same.

RWM and ROM are both nothing but stacks of hundreds and thousands of units called 'Registers' each of which store 8 bits (in some cases 16 bits) of data where every 'bit' is nothing but a 0 or a 1. And to store these 8 bits, every Register has 8 units called 'Flip-Flops' (not the ones you wear to bathroom). And going even more inside, what are these Flip Flops made of? Each Flip Flop is made up of 4 to 6 NAND Gates or NOR Gates (not related to Bill Gates).

If how are these Gates made? By a process called Transistor-Transistor Logic (TTL), every gate is manufactured as a circuit of 5 to 6 transistors each! Aah finally! We have ultimately reached to the very heart of everything! And one final question remains to be answered- what is this 'Transistor' after all? Well, nothing but Silica or in simple words- SAND! Yes, you heard that right. The simple sand albeit in very pure form with a little bit of Aluminium Oxide and dopings of Phosphorous and Boron and here it is ready- A Metal Oxide Semiconductor Field Effect Transistor or MOSFET (or stick to just Transistor if all this is too difficult to comprehend!)

Pen And The Pen Drive: The Magic of VLSI allows this tiny device to hold a mammoth 2 billion bytes of data!

And how many of these Transistors do you think are packed into our devices? Ladies and Gentlemen, Hold your breath.. Thanks to a path-breaking technology called Very Large Scale Integrated Circuit (VLSIC) as many as 18 billion of these teeny weeny creatures are packed inside the little 64 MB memory card of your Digicam! Yes, you heard that right- 18 thousand million of them! At this rate, I have neither the time nor the inclination to find out the number for my 80 GB Hard Drive!

So here we are- everything from our PC and cellphone and iPods to Digicam is nothing but humble sand! Isn't it surprising how tiny insignificant things which we never bother about sometimes play such a significant role in our lives!


  1. Informative...

    PS: Sand is another form of silica.

  2. I wouldn't imagine a hard disk drive having very many transistors. As I know it, an HDD stores information by magnetizing a magnetic material. A pen drive on the other hand, uses flash memory, which employs transistors. But then I might be wrong, I'm not the electronics major here.

  3. @Anonymous

    You are right. Upto recentl, HDDs used magnetic tapes but that will change very soon. Already Samsung has brought out a 8GB Flash based memory chip while Dell has announced a laptop with 80GB Flash drive eliminating conventional HDDs

  4. just to be clear.... i don't think the fact that HDDs using magnetic disks (not tapes btw) is going to change ANYTIME soon. a hard disk drive will continue to have the magnetic disks... note the "hard" and the "disk" in hard disk drive.

    what you're probably referring to is an SSD, a Solid State Drive. And don't hold your breath where these are concerned. They'll come, but they're still a while away. The whole SSD project has a lot of bugs to fix yet.

    Just an idea, and I don't mean to be vindictive.... being an electronics major, you really ought to read up before you decide to post something online that deals with your subject.


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