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IBM shrinks SRAM to boost PC speeds

New technology could speed up processors

IBM claims to have developed technology that could reduce power consumption and speed up performance of processors used in PCs, servers and other devices.

The company has shrunk the smallest features in test memory chips used in CPUs to 22 nanometres (nm), which could enable processors to have more features and perform more quickly while consuming less power.

The memory chips, called static random access memory (SRAM) cells, are part of a CPU where data is temporarily stored before being processed.
Reducing the memory cell's size is one step in shrinking the entire microprocessor, said Mukesh Khare, project manager at IBM. The company hopes to see CPUs manufactured using the 22-nm process by 2011, Khare said.

With the smaller features, IBM could put more functions on a smaller chip, such as adding 3D graphics or animation capabilities, or put graphics chips inside microprocessors, Khare said.

"As the number of cores (in CPUs) increases, the demand for more and more memory inside microprocessors grows dramatically. Making sure that we can continue to grow memory on microprocessors is a basic requirement for scaling," Khare said.

A nanometre equals about one billionth of a metre. In chip manufacturing, the figure refers to the smallest features on chip surfaces.
Chip manufacturers are constantly upgrading chip manufacturing technologies for power savings and speed gains. Intel, a rival to IBM for some kinds of chips, manufactures chips using a 45-nm process, with plans to switch to a 22-nm process by 2011. IBM has said it will switch to the 45-nm manufacturing process this year.

"We can continue the scaling or miniaturisation of the circuits for several more generations. There is still a lot more room for development," Khare said.

Research on the SRAM cell was done by IBM and its partners, including AMD, Freescale, STMicroelectronics and Toshiba, at the University of Albany's College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering. A small manufacturing unit there produced the test SRAM chips.


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