IBM’s New Semiconductor Technique

IBM introduced a new technique it claims will allow it
to make semiconductors that can take care of themselves.

Using a patented technology called “eFUSE,” the tech
giant said it can combine software algorithms with microscopic electrical
fuses to produce chips that can automatically regulate their own quality,
performance and power consumption without help from human operators. The
technology, also referred to as chip morphing, is currently in
production at IBM’s East Fishkill, N.Y., and
Burlington, Vt., facilities.

“eFUSE reroutes chip logic, much the way highway traffic patterns can be
altered by opening and closing new lanes,” Bernard Meyerson, IBM fellow,
vice president and chief technologist, said in a statement.

eFUSE uses the phenomena of “electromigration,” according to IBM
researchers. This phenomena has traditionally been damaging to chip
performance and was historically avoided. IBM’s scientists said they looked
at how to harness electromigration and uses it to program a fuse without
damaging other parts of the chip. Previously, development of on-chip fuse
technology often involved rupturing fuses.

But IBM says the morphing technology is a success. If eFUSE detects
an imperfection, it “instinctively” initiates corrective actions by
tripping inexpensive, simple electrical fuses that are designed into the
chip. The fuses help the chip control individual circuit speed to manage
power consumption and repair unexpected flaws.

If the technology detects
that the chip is malfunctioning because individual circuits are running too
fast or too slow, it can power, or “throttle down,” these circuits or speed
them up by controlling the appropriate local voltage.

Researchers with IBM also said the morphing technology is beneficial for
custom-design chips that need to change based on end-user or software
demand. The company said the eFUSE technology can also be repeated several
times — even after the chip has been packaged and shipped in a product,
making it a good purchase for IBM’s partners.

While IBM said the technology could one day end up in cell phones,
consumer electronics and other products, the company is planning to debut
the technology in all of its 90-nanometer process semiconductors and
embedded DRAM technology. In a statement late last week, IBM said it is
currently developing the technology for its Power Architecture, including
POWER5 and other chips used in IBM eServer systems, as well as low-power IBM
silicon germanium (SiGe) chips.

The company also said its eFUSE is technology independent and does not
require the introduction of new materials, tools or processes. Because of that,
IBM said it also plans to license the technology to its foundry customers.

IBM said it has about a dozen patents in all invested in its eFUSE
technology. The company has been at the forefront with many semiconductor
advances, having been first to use more power-efficient copper wiring in
place of aluminum and faster silicon on insulator (SOI) and silicon
germanium transistors.

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