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10 key technologies you couldn't live without

The keys to a digital age in an analogue world

You may not think much of Unicode, XML, and digital signal processing? Well, you couldn't get through your day without them. Trust us. Here are the 10 most important technologies you use and need, but never give a second though.

Transistors

Later this year, Intel plans to unveil the world's first integrated circuit to contain 2 billion transistors.

Moore's Law says that the number of transistors we can put into integrated circuits will double approximately every two years. That's a lot of transistors, but what do they all do?

Simply put, the transistor may well be the greatest invention of the 20th century. It's really nothing more than a voltage-controlled switch, but that humble description hides incredible power.

Linked together in various ways, transistors can form circuits that are the basis of every type of digital logic, right up to the CPUs that power our modern PCs and servers.

What makes today's chips so powerful is the industry's ability to cram components ever closer together. The transistors on the processor inside your PC might be only about 100 atoms across, but improvements in manufacturing technology will keep them shrinking, for the time-being at least.

Some day, optical chips or even quantum processors may replace current chip designs and outperform them many times over. For now, we'll have to content ourselves with continuing to improve upon an often-ignored technology that has served us for 50 years and counting.

NEXT PAGE: why you couldn't live without XML

  1. The keys to today's digital age
  2. Unicode
  3. Digital signal processing
  4. Managed code
  5. Transistors
  6. Why you couldn't live without XML
  7. Nonvolatile RAM
  8. Lithium ion batteries
  9. Voice over IP (VoIP) calls
  10. Graphics acceleration
  11. High-speed net access

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