The Transistor’s 60th Birthday

Filed under: — Aviran Mordo

Sixty years ago, on Dec. 16, 1947, three physicists at Bell Laboratories in Murray Hill, N.J., built the world’s first transistor. William Shockley, John Bardeen and William Brattain had been looking for a semiconductor amplifier to take the place of the vacuum tubes that made radios and other electronics so impossibly bulky, hot and power hungry. They were so instantly certain they’d found their answer that they didn’t speak a word of it to anyone for six months, until they could experiment further and apply for patents.

Then on June 30, 1948, they held a press conference in New York City. They showed the world not only a big model of a transistor but also a TV and a radio with transistors in place of the tubes. Nobody was talking about anything like computers yet, but it was a first look at the future we all live in. The world’s response? The New York Times ran an item at the bottom of its “News of Radio” column on page 46.

It sounded like a gimmick, and just too good to be true. The historian Robert Friedel quotes a Bell Labs engineer as saying, “The transistor in 1949 didn’t seem like anything very revolutionary to me. It just seemed like another one of those crummy jobs that required one hell of a lot of overtime and a lot of guff from my wife.” Only 20% of them worked. They were hard to manufacture. They required the design of new kinds of circuits. Even if they could eventually, theoretically, replace the vacuum tube, the tube worked well enough. How could they be worth the trouble?

But the technology kept improving. It got its first consumer application in December 1952 in a hearing aid, where it replaced one of three tubes and lowered battery costs. Then it took off. By 1954 the transistor was in 97% of hearing aids and sales of the devices were up 50%. That year the first transistor radio came out. It cost $49.95, the equivalent of $380 today. Still, as of 1955, a total of just 4 million transistors had been manufactured. That many vacuum tubes were produced every two days.

Spanish police arrest 63 in child pornography swoop

Filed under: — Aviran Mordo

Spanish police said on Sunday they had arrested 63 people across the country in five investigations into child pornography being posted, viewed and paid for on the Internet.

It is the second huge swoop this year after police arrested 66 people on charges of child pornography in July. Last year, the state attorney said the number of under-age pornography investigations had risen 48.4 percent.

The police said some of the people they arrested this time had produced child pornography material that was then posted on the Web. They also arrested four Russians who had made about 200,000 euros ($290,600) from selling access to pictures.

AMD Admits Mistakes with Quad-Core Chips

Filed under: — Aviran Mordo

Advanced Micro Devices stumbled in bringing quad-core chips to the market this year, executives said while speaking with Wall Street analysts here Dec. 13.

However, CEO Hector Ruiz and other company officials said AMD will return to profitability next year while refreshing its product portfolio.

During its annual meeting with financial analysts, Ruiz and his management team repeatedly admitted to AMD’s problems with bringing quad-core server and desktop chips to the market in 2007, but promised that chip maker will correct those problems starting in the first quarter of 2008.

“We blew it and we are very humbled by it,” Ruiz said, adding that the company had not properly prepared for unseen problems in bringing both the quad-core Opteron chip and its desktop counterpart, Phenom, to market. Last week, AMD admitted it had discovered a technical problem with the chips—specifically a bug in the translation-lookaside buffer—that is being addressed.

With those failures in mind, Ruiz said that AMD’s “number one priority is to return to profitability” in 2008. Under the current plan, he said the chip maker should be able to turn a profit by the third quarter of 2008. AMD has posted losses in the last four quarters.

AMD executives said the company plans to ship hundreds of thousands of quad-core desktop and server chips this quarter, but OEMs will likely not release new clients or systems until at least the first quarter of 2008. At the event, AMD demonstrated a Dell PowerEdge 2970 server and a Sun Microsystems Sun Fire x4600 system running with quad-core Opterons.

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