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IBM and the Georgia Institute of Technology announced Wednesdat that their researchers have demonstrated the first silicon-based chip capable of operating at frequencies above 500GHz, which is over a hundred of times higher compared to currently shipping microprocessors. To reach the speed, the scientists had to cool the chip nearly to the coldest possible temperature in nature.

The experiments, conducted jointly by IBM and Georgia Tech researchers, are part of a project to explore the ultimate speed limits of silicon-germanium (SiGe) devices, which operate faster at very cold temperatures. The chips used in the research are from a prototype fourth-generation SiGe technology fabricated by IBM on a 200mm wafer. At room temperature, they operated at approximately 350GHz, but when the researchers cryogenically froze the chips to -268.3°C (-451° Fahrenheit), the speed could be increased to 500GHz.

Such extremely cold temperatures are found naturally only in outer space, but can be artificially achieved on Earth using ultra-cold materials such as liquid helium. Absolute aero, the coldest achievable temperature in nature, occurs at minus -237.6°C (-459.67° Fahrenheit).

Silicon-germanium technology has been of great interest to the electronics industry because it allows substantial transistor performance improvements to be achieved while using fabrication techniques compatible with standard high-volume silicon-based manufacturing processes. By introducing germanium into silicon wafers at the atomic scale, engineers can boost dramatically performance while retaining the many advantages of silicon. Better understanding the physics of silicon-germanium devices – and ultimately the circuits that can be built from them – will provide important clues to improvements needed in the future.

SiGe is a process technology in which the electrical properties of silicon, the material underlying virtually all modern microchips, is augmented with germanium to make chips operate more efficiently. SiGe boosts performance and reduces power consumption in chips that go into cellular phones and other advanced communication devices. IBM first announced its SiGe technology in 1989, and later introduced SiGe into the industry’s first standard, high-volume SiGe chips in October 1998. Since that time, it has shipped hundreds of millions of SiGe chips.

Ultra-high-frequency silicon-germanium circuits have potential applications in commercial communications systems, defense electronics, space exploration, and remote sensing. Achieving such extreme speeds in silicon-based technology – which can be manufactured using conventional low-cost techniques – could provide a pathway to high-volume applications, according to IBM. Until now, only integrated circuits fabricated from more costly “III-V” compound semiconductor materials have achieved such extreme levels of transistor performance.

“This groundbreaking collaborative research by Georgia Tech and IBM redefines the performance limits of silicon-based semiconductors,” said Bernie Meyerson, vice president and chief technologist, IBM systems and technology group. “IBM is committed to working closely with our academic and industry partners to deliver the insight and innovation that will enable a new generation of high-performance, energy efficient microprocessors.”

Discussion

Comments currently: 9
Discussion started: 06/22/06 12:15:26 AM
Latest comment: 06/22/06 10:12:12 PM

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1. 
-273.16°C is not only the lowest temperature in nature, its the absolute lowest temperature there can be, thats why its called absolute zero.
Temperature is measured in movement of atoms and at slightly lower than -273.16°C they stop moving (or at 0K which would be the temperature of no atom-movement while 0°C is just the temperature when ice turns to liquid water).

However, this achievement at IBM has absolutely no effect on the computer industry because noone uses BJTs for their parts =)
0 0 [Posted by:  | Date: 06/22/06 12:35:15 AM]
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