Improve Your Smartphone with Defective Silicon Chips

A new discovery by Swiss scientists could reduce e-waste and improve our gadgets' energy efficiency.

If you put a defective battery in a flashlight, chances are the flashlight’s not going to work—that’s just common sense. Likewise, you’d think, if you put a faulty silicon chip in a smartphone, chances are the smartphone won’t be able to do all of the things that smartphones are so good at doing.

As it turns out, the opposite is true—at least according to new research out of Switzerland’s École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne. In an announcement that seems to turn logic on its head, scientists at EPFL discovered that using defective chips might actually make smartphones more energy efficient , without sacrificing performance.

Chip manufacturers usually throw out chips that run at low voltage—even though they’re more energy efficient—because they’re liable to fail more often than they should. The EPFL researchers, though, figured that sporadic chip failure shouldn’t be a deal-breaker, so they built a smartphone system designed to tolerate the occasional data loss or distortion. The result? Greater energy efficiency and a longer battery life, without any significant loss in performance. We can probably stop throwing out all of those supposedly defective chips now.

Any chance that this discovery could make smartphones cheaper? Yes—but only if we build phones that run solely on low-voltage chips. The problem is that these phones would almost certainly be slower than their high-voltage counterparts—and that’s probably not a sacrifice that many smartphone-addicted consumers would be willing to make.

Photo via Wikimedia Commons