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6/20/06 at 3:28pm
|Engineers at IBM and the Georgia Institute of Technology went into the deep freeze to shatter the speed record for processors, creating a chip that runs at speeds over 250 times that typically found in today's electronics.
According to the researchers, the new technology holds the promise of delivering HDTV and movie-quality video to mobile phones, automobiles, and a broad range of common devices.
Working together at Georgia Tech's Cryogenic Lab, the researchers demonstrated a silicon-germanium (SiGe) chip that operates at frequencies above 500 GHz.
They were able to achieve this speed by freezing it to 451 degrees (Fahrenheit) below zero, or just nine degrees above absolute zero. In comparison, most current mobile-phone processors operate at about 2 GHz.
While this new chip runs at 350 GHz at room temperature, computer simulations indicate that the SiGe technology used in this research might be able to power processors that run at frequencies up to 1,000 GHz -- even in warm environments.
"We are exploring the upper performance limits of commercial silicon-based technology using low-cost manufacturing techniques," said John Cressler, a professor in Georgia Tech's School of Electrical and Computer Engineering.
SiGe is a process technology in which the electrical properties of silicon -- the material underlying almost all modern microchips -- is supplemented with germanium to increase efficiency and reduce power consumption.
SiGe currently is used for all kinds of communications applications, including mobile phones and radar systems. According to Cressler, ultra-high-frequency SiGe circuits have potential applications in defense electronics and space exploration.
"With this technology, you don't have to trade performance for power drain, but the challenge is to build circuits that can operate at normal temperatures," he said.
Understanding the basic physics of these advanced transistors provides researchers with knowledge that could make the next generation of silicon-based integrated circuits even better, he added.
The researchers say that, when the new SiGe technology is ready for prime time, chip manufacturers will be able to use their existing materials and infrastructure Relevant Products/Services from Insight, making it much easier, and less expensive, to improve the speed of their semiconductor products.