As Intel was announcing its new transistor technology last weekend, IBM was unveiling an identical improvement to the transistor that is the basic building block of almost all microchips.
Working with AMD and its other development partners Sony and Toshiba, IBM has constructed a critical part of the transistor with a new material, clearing a path toward chip circuitry that is smaller, faster and more power-efficient than before.
As important, the technology can be incorporated into existing chip manufacturing lines with minimal changes to tooling and processes, making it economically viable.
IBM has inserted the technology into its semiconductor manufacturing line in East Fishkill, New York and will apply it to products with chip circuits as small as 45 nanometers (billionths of a meter) starting in 2008.
"Until now, the chip industry was facing a major roadblock in terms of how far we could push current technology," says Dr TC Chen, vice-president: Science & Technology at IBM Research. “After more than 10 years of effort, we now have a way forward. With chip technology so pervasive in our everyday lives, this work will benefit people in many ways.”
The technology, called “high-k metal gate,” substitutes a new material into a critical portion of the transistor that controls its primary on/off switching function. The material provides superior electrical properties compared to its predecessor, enhancing the transistor’s function while also allowing the size of the transistor to be shrunk beyond limits being reached today.
As important as the new material itself is the method for introducing it into current manufacturing techniques.
The creation of this transistor component with the new material was accomplished by the IBM team without requiring major tooling or process changes in manufacturing – an essential element if the technology is to be economically viable.
Incremental work leading up to this achievement had been published earlier by IBM in scientific journals and presented at chip technology conferences.