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Armonk, N.Y. - 08 Jun 2001: IBM today announced a breakthrough method to alter silicon -- the fundamental material at the heart of microchips -- which is expected to boost chip speeds by up to 35 percent.
Called "Strained Silicon", the technology stretches the material, speeding the flow of electrons through transistors to increase performance and decrease power consumption in semiconductors.
This marks the fifth major breakthrough in semiconductor technology announced by IBM in less than four years. IBM estimates that strained silicon technology could find its way into products by 2003.
"Most of the industry is struggling with extending chip performance as we approach the fundamental physical limits of silicon," said Randy Isaac, vice president of science and technology, IBM Research. "We're able to maintain our technology lead by also focusing our research on innovative ways to improve chip materials, device structures and design. This approach to R&D makes possible breakthroughs like strained silicon."
The new technology takes advantage of the natural tendency for atoms inside compounds to align with one another. When silicon is deposited on top of a substrate with atoms spaced farther apart, the atoms in silicon stretch to line up with the atoms beneath, stretching -- or "straining" -- the silicon. In the strained silicon, electrons experience less resistance and flow up to 70 percent faster, which can lead to chips that are up to 35 percent faster -- without having to shrink the size of transistors.
"Just as important as finding ways to improve the performance of silicon is getting these breakthroughs out of the labs and into the marketplace quickly," said Bijan Davari, vice president of semiconductor development, IBM Microelectronics. "Strained silicon, combined with our prior advances in copper, silicon-on-insulator, silicon germanium and low-K materials, will allow us to maintain our one-to-two year lead in semiconductor technologies over the rest of the industry."
The evolution of semiconductor technology has traditionally followed a trend described by Moore's Law, an industry axiom that predicts that the number of transistors on a chip will double every 18 months, largely due to continued miniaturization known as scaling. While efforts to shrink the transistor continue, dimensions of the devices are already approaching the atomic level, beyond which simple scaling will cease.
IBM will present details of its strained silicon breakthroughs in two technical papers being presented at the Symposium on VLSI Technology in Kyoto, Japan on June 13, 2001.
The first paper outlines the successful implementation of strained silicon with current standard semiconductor processes, with minimal impact on existing manufacturing lines. The second paper demonstrates that strained silicon can be integrated with IBM's breakthrough silicon-on-insulator process, combining these two technologies for an even bigger boost in performance.
Over the past four years, IBM's labs have turned out a number of groundbreaking technologies that have changed the industry and given IBM a big lead in semiconductor technologies.
In 1997, IBM engineers improved the connections between transistors by allowing copper (a better conductor of electricity) to be substituted for aluminum. Another IBM breakthrough came in 1998, when IBM turbocharged transistor technology with its unique silicon-on-insulator process that allows chips to run faster. That same year, IBM became the first company to mass produce chips made of silicon germanium to speed communications products. Then, in 2000, IBM unveiled a new manufacturing technique that uses a material known as a "low-K dielectric" to effectively shield millions of individual copper circuits on a chip, reducing electrical " crosstalk" between wires that can hinder chip performance and waste power.
Strained silicon images can be found at: http://www.research.ibm.com/resources/press/strainedsilicon.
More information on IBM's related semiconductor breakthroughs can be found at: http://www.chips.ibm.com/bluelogic/showcase.
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