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IBM boosts chip performance and cuts power

Technology could be used in phones and servers

IBM demonstrated new technology on Monday that boosts performance and reduces power consumption on chips used in devices from mobile phones to high-performance servers.

The technology, called high-k/metal gate, increases performance by up to 30 percent and reduces power consumption by up to 50 percent on chips manufactured using the 32-nanometre (nm) process, IBM said. This compares to chips manufactured using the 45nm process operating at the similar voltage, according to IBM's benchmarks.

For example, when a 45nm process chip operating at 1.1V is scaled to the 32nm process with high-k metal gate technology it will have a 24 percent increase in speed and a 40 percent reduction in power consumption, said Mukesh Khare, senior manager at IBM's microelectronics division. If the voltage is dropped to 0.95V, the chip has an 18 percent increase in speed and a 45 percent reduction in power consumption.

One nm equals about one billionth of a metre. In chip manufacturing, the figure refers to the smallest features etched on chip surfaces. The measurement was done on circuits and components generally used to benchmark the speed and performance of a chip, Khare said.

The company is shipping an evaluation kit that includes chip models and shows customers how to design chips using the high-k/metal gate technology, Khare said. High-k/metal gate technology uses material to reduce electricity leaks on chips. IBM said it may incorporate the technology when it starts volume production of chips using the 32nm process. IBM has said it plans to start volume production of chips using the 32nm process in late 2009.

For computing devices to deliver power savings and performance gains, chip manufacturers are consistently upgrading manufacturing technologies. Intel last year started incorporating high-k/metal gate technology when it began manufacturing chips using the 45nm process. Intel's chip rival, AMD, does not use high-k metal gate technology in chips.

Monday's announcement was one more step in IBM's efforts to advance semiconductor technology. The company last month announced an alliance with Hitachi to jointly research the miniaturisation of chip circuitry from 32nm and 22nm semiconductor. It is also developing silicon nanophotonics technology, which could replace some of the wires on a chip with pulses of light on tiny optical fibres for quicker and more power-efficient data transfers between cores on a chip. It is also working with US universities to develop carbon nanotubes, smaller transistors that could deliver better performance than current transistors.

IBM made Monday's announcement with its partners, Chartered Semiconductor, Freescale Semiconductor, Infineon Technologies, Samsung, STMicroelectronics and Toshiba. IBM has a manufacturing partnership with AMD and, although AMD wasn't part of the official announcement, it will have access to the new technology, Khare said.


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