RealTime IT News

Chipmakers Advance Transistor Technology

IBM and AMD have devised a new silicon transistor technology they claim will boost the speeds of single- and dual-core chips.

The process, known as "Dual Stress Liner," uses IBM and AMD's jointly developed strained silicon technology and could increase transistor speed as much as 24 percent without using any additional power, the two companies said. IBM and AMD said the technique works without the help of additional new processes, which may be welcome news for chipmakers struggling to boost chip speeds without overheating computer systems.

"Innovation has surpassed scaling as the primary driver of semiconductor technology performance improvements," Lisa Su, IBM's vice president of technology development and alliances, said in a statement. "This achievement with AMD demonstrates that companies willing to share their expertise and skills can find new ways to overcome roadblocks and help lead the industry to the next generation of technology advancements."

Transistors are the microscopic, silicon-based switches that process the ones and zeros of the digital world. The gate turns the transistor on and off and the gate dielectric is an insulator underneath it that controls the flow of electric current. IBM and AMD have been collaborating on the development of next-generation semiconductor manufacturing technologies since January 2003.

The "Dual Stress Liner," process works on both types of semiconductor transistors, called n-channel and p-channel transistors, by stretching silicon atoms in one transistor and compressing them in the other.

The breakthrough developed with the help of engineers from IBM, AMD, Sony and Toshiba at IBM's Semiconductor Research and Development Center (SRDC) in East Fishkill, NY, as well as engineers from AMD at its Fab 30 facility in Dresden, Germany. The process makes AMD and IBM the first companies to combine strained silicon with silicon-on-insulator (SOI) technology to enhance the way a transistor works. AMD said it will gradually phase in the new transistor know-how for its next generation chips starting with its 90-nanometer Opteron processors.

"This is a better way to deliver the performance enhancements and power reduction," Nick Kepler, vice president of logic technology development at AMD said in a statement.

Despite their long history of collaboration, the developments come after months of reports of a growing rift between the two companies with sometimes-competing silicon products.

The partnership also follows IBM's announcement this month that it has increased the performance of silicon germanium technology to improve the speed and capacity of its transistors.

Details of the AMD-IBM Dual Stress Liner innovation will be disclosed this week at the 2004 International Electron Devices Meeting (IEDM) in San Francisco.

In a separate statement, AMD took the wraps off its Geode GX SOM-144 Reference Design Kit (RDK).

The design tool includes hardware and software specifications AMD hopes will increase the number of industrial computing products that use its fan-less processors. The RDK is based on the AMD Geode GX 533@1.1W processor, which already powers embedded controllers, point-of-sale terminals, information appliances and kiosks.