Remembering the Transistor.

Where there was one Transistor, there are now a billion!
Collectively they are called Chips.

by Will Wainwright

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I've always considered myself lucky on being a teenager at the dawn of Rock & Roll. More importantly at the same time the Transistor came along, That was in the mid 50’s. Until then, the work horse of all things electronics was the Vacuum tube. In the beginning they were fist size eventually becoming thumb size like the popular 6AU6 used in just about all table top radios. They were made of glass and had a light bulb type filament inside to excite the electrons within. And they did get hot. They needed both low AC voltage for the filament and high DC voltage for the anode and cathode to function.

It was during the mid 50’s, Bell Labs developed the first transistors at a fraction of the size of a vacuum tube - about the size of an eraser on a pencil. They required no AC,  just low voltage DC - a couple of 1.5 volt flash light batteries would do. And they produced no detectable heat. Do you remember your first Transistor Radio? It often would say "Six Transistors",  and if you were really cool, it could have even been an Eight Transistor. The first transistor radio was the Regency TR1 (left). It was dubbed as the WORLDS FIRST POCKET RADIO. You may have had the one shown here. It even came in over a half a dozen colors. Its price - $49.95 

About the same time, the first transistors became available for hobbyists. They were the Raytheon CK722, followed by the GE 2N107. An ad in the July 1955 Popular Electronics lists them for $2.50 about the price of a vacuum tube. 

Then around 1980, along came 'flash memory' invented by Toshiba. Essentially a flat chip containing thousands of transistors. Its main feature is it maintains its memory without power and can be electrically erased and reprogrammed. It is used in computers, digital cameras, mobile phones, video games, scientific instrumentation, industrial robotics, and medical electronics etc. etc.  

Think of one transistor as one bit. A billion bits equals one gigabit, a common value flash drive. Now this might be hard to comprehend, but if you were to buy a billion transistors, back in the day that would cost you $2,500,000,000.00. Even with a quantity discount of 75% that would come to 625 Million Dollars! As for the physical size, of a billion CK722's, I wouldn't even want to calculate.

"But wait", now they have packaged 1 trillion transistors into the ‘flash dive’ below. That is one terabyte for the cost of ten transistors back in ’55. Or look at it this way that first transistor would cost 0.00000000025 cents today!

Putting the cost aside, the shrinkage of size of the actual transistor is even more mind boggling. How is it possible to pack close to a trillion transistors in the space of the first transistor? Also what is more astonishing is the fact that a human mind(s) figured out how to do that and then mass produce them. But that’s a subject for someone else to write about.

Common usage of the word Transistor was often used as, and referred to, the transistor radio itself. Now-a-days, you seldom hear the word transistor, it has been replaced by “Chip” for their flat look and multitude of transistors it contains. For the record, technically speaking "As of 2022, the highest transistor count in flash memory was Micron's 2 terabyte (3D-stacked) 16-die, 232-layer V-NAND flash memory chip, with 5.3 trillion floating-gate MOSFETs (3 bits per transistor)". What that means, I have no idea. Only, here we’ve really entered the quantum world.

Soon Our Survival Will Depend on the Chip!

I say this because the Chip has become the catalyst that connects and controls our devices to its electrical source. This was not the case a few decades ago. For instance your car or an elevator in a NY skyscraper, even a pinball machine used electricity but no transistors / chips. Relays did all the work of switching.

The transistor was about 20 years old when the first practical integrated circuits - chips started to appear. They have given us so much, yet without our knowing, our survival has grown dependent on them.

Today that lowly transistor is in every chip, aka semi conductor, that are in every computer that is in every new auto and electronic device. Computers run everything, from street lights to dialysis machines. From your appliances down to your electric toothbrush. You may have noticed we haven’t mentioned your iPhone or Tablet /Computer. How would you get through your everyday life without them?

Presently there is a world wide shortage of computer chips forcing Apple to begin manufacturing their own. The first being the M1. For us in North America, it is especially concerning as most come from Taiwan, South Korea and not so friendly China. You may know that there is a back log of many automobiles as the manufacturers cant get the chips for the computers that are in every car, whether it is autonomous or not - whether it is electric or gas.

In an article I’ve written, I describe about how human evolution has evolved, beyond the point where we needed only food & fire, water, shelter and the air we breathe to survive. That wasn’t too long ago. Today you can add electricity to the list. We need it for every little thing, from our recliner and can opener even hearing aids, yet we seldom give all those electrons a second thought except during a power outage. Remember, the bulk of our electric devices, weather practical or recreational are controlled by Chips.

In my article, I’ve written about the many ways the loss of electricity could come about, the least of which is a hurricane, and what you could do to prepare your self for such an eventuality. IT'S ALL HERE.

I'm now going to turn off the TV and lights, set the thermostat and head to bed.