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RealTime IT News

IBM Perks Up Memory, Transistors

IBM is tweaking its semiconductor technology to help extend the performance of its servers and enterprise PCs, the company said Monday.

The Armonk, N.Y.-based firm said it has built a component for high-speed computer memory that is about 10 times smaller than what's currently on the market. The process, when perfected, could allow for more static random access memory to be included on each chip, thereby improving its performance.

Each memory is an array of many cells. A typical SRAM cell contains six transistors and acts as a single-bit storage element. Although not as dense, SRAM is many times faster than dynamic random access memory . SRAM is essential for storing data that must be quickly and frequently retrieved by the processor.

"Our ability to create critical electronic components at these small scales ultimately means our systems will be able to tackle harder problems," T.C. Chen, vice president of Science and Technology at IBM Research, said in a statement.

SRAM technology is gaining in popularity because it lets computer chips like the ones in IBM's Power family handle demanding applications like banking and digital media. The problem right now is that the space available for SRAM on these chips is expensive and hard to make.

In a separate statement, IBM said it is using the element of germanium to improve the speed and capacity of its transistors.

For the last 30 years, silicon dioxide has served as the material of choice for the switches that process the ones and zeros of the digital world. Now, researchers with IBM Labs have demonstrated how the element germanium can function in the part of the transistor through which electrical current flows, also called the "channel."

Other companies have seen the benefits of strained germanium over silicon or strained silicon. IBM said the new technique is also promising as it is compatible with current CMOS technology.

The company said the new technique could help ensure that chips with circuit sizes of 32 nanometers (nm) and smaller could continue to be made.

"With this work we've drawn from our experience introducing technologies like silicon germanium, silicon-on-insulator and strained silicon," Chen said. "Our focus is on the application of that learning to develop innovative solutions for our customers."

Within the transistor itself, IBM said its selective strained-germanium technique actually introduces other fringe benefits. For example, the integrated circuit industry is looking for alternatives to replace SiO2 gate oxide using "high-K" insulators.

However, introducing a new "high-K" insulator material to the existing silicon technology is found to be especially challenging; the electrical properties of the strained germanium actually provides an easier path for the introduction of "high-K" insulators.

Both technologies are scheduled to be discussed next week at an International Electron Devices Meeting in San Francisco.