Electronic Design

Altered Silicon Increases Chip Speeds Up To 35%

Researchers from IBM Corp. have developed a breakthrough method to alter silicon that increases chip speeds by up to 35%. While other technologies attempt to increase chip speed by shrinking chip components, this process tackles silicon as the key to reducing resistance and increasing speed. The research is being conducted at IBM facilities in Armonk, N.Y.

The experimental process is named strained silicon. By stretching the silicon material, this technology speeds the flow of electrons through transistors. According to the researchers, greater flow leads to increased performance and decreased power consumption in semiconductors. The technology uses the natural tendency of atoms inside compounds to align with one another.

When silicon is deposited on top of a substrate with atoms spaced farther apart, the atoms demonstrate a tendency to align with the atoms beneath (see the figure). This causes the stretching, or straining, of the silicon. The researchers say the electrons in the strained silicon experience less resistance. Also, electrons flow up to 70% faster in this configuration. This increased flow may generate chips that are up to 35% faster. The speed increase is exacted without needing to shrink the size of transistors.

Technical papers released by IBM chronicle further advantages of the strained-silicon technology. The company says the technology has been successfully implemented with current standard semiconductor processes. This implementation is achieved with minimal impact on existing manufacturing lines. So, IBM can use its existing fabrication equipment to build chips employing strained-silicon technology. Also, strained silicon can be integrated with the company's silicon-on-insulator process. IBM says the combination of technologies will lead to an even bigger boost in performance.

IBM estimates that the technology will be employed in products by 2003. To learn more, visit www.ibm.com.

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