One Cool Chip

Researchers at IBM Corp. and the Georgia Institute of Technology announced today that they have developed a microprocessor that can run at 500 gigahertz by cooling the chip to minus 451 degrees Fahrenheit (4.5 Kelvins). This is hundreds of times faster than the clock speed of typical microprocessors on the market now.

The advance occurred during experiments with silicon-germanium (SiGe) technology at low temperature. However, the researchers believe that further research could produce microprocessors operating at near terahertz speeds at room temperature. IBM said the experimental chip was a version of a prototype SiGe design fabricated by IBM on a 200-millimeter wafer.

"For the first time, Georgia Tech and IBM have demonstrated that speeds of half a trillion cycles per second can be achieved in a commercial silicon-based technology, using large wafers and silicon-compatible, low-cost manufacturing techniques," said John D. Cressler, of the university's School of Electrical and Computer Engineering, "This work redefines the upper bounds of what is possible using silicon-germanium nanotechnology techniques."

Using SiGe enables designers to make chips run more efficiently by boosting performance and reducing power consumption. Future applications for next-generation microprocessors include advanced communications, defense electronics, space exploration, and remote sensing.

"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 at 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."

Until now, the announcement noted, only integrated circuits made from more costly III-V compound semiconductor materials have achieved such extreme performance levels. Using SiGe, super-fast chips can be manufactured using conventional low-cost techniques.

"We observe effects in these devices at cryogenic temperatures which potentially make them faster than simple theory would suggest, and may allow us to ultimately make the devices even faster," Georgia Tech's Cressler noted. "Understanding the basic physics of these advanced transistors arms us with knowledge that could make the next generation of silicon-based integrated circuits even better."

A report on the accomplishment will be published in the July issue of the journal IEEE Electron Device Letters.

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