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IBM Chip Advance Spurs "System-On-A-Chip" Products


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EAST FISHKILL, N.Y - 22 Feb 1999: . . . IBM today announced a major advance in semiconductor technology that will allow complete electronic systems to be built on a single silicon chip.

Capitalizing on IBM's leadership in copper technology, the company has found a way to efficiently place both logic and memory circuits on a single piece of silicon. This can significantly enhance the performance of many electronic products, from personal computers to cell phones to video games, while reducing the number of chips inside, making products smaller and less expensive.

Logic circuits process information, while memory circuits store information; the two are used in tandem to add "intelligence" to electronic products. Until now, the two functions have normally been provided on separate chips, adding complexity and cost. With IBM's technology, twenty-four million "gates," or circuits -- equal to as much as eight times the processing and two to four times the memory found on today's typical PC -- can be packed on a single chip.

This removes a major hurdle in the electronics miniaturization race, clearing the path to eventual "system-on-a-chip" products and a new wave of pervasive computing devices. IBM plans to start designing custom chips with this capability in April of this year.

"Until now, having processing power and data on separate chips was like having the materials you need to do your job in another office," said Bijan Davari, IBM Fellow and vice president of development for the IBM Microelectronics Division. "This forces you to keep going next door to get what you need. By placing logic and DRAM together on a single chip, we're making sure that the processor has what it needs close at hand, allowing it to operate more efficiently."

Previous approaches typically yielded chips that compromised the function of logic or memory or both. Using IBM's unique combination of copper wiring and DRAM (dynamic random access memory) "trench cell" design, chips can be built that not only maintain logic function, but actually improve memory capability as much as ten-fold, making this integration viable for the first time for a wide range of applications.

IBM's thinner copper wiring is used in combination with circuitry as small as 0.15 micron (less than 1/600th the width of a human hair), placing those circuits closer together and squeezing in more logic. The small size of IBM's memory cells allows them to be added to the chip as well without interfering with the maze of copper wiring or logic transistors.

IBM will first make this new embedded memory available in a custom chip template dubbed SA-27E. IBM is a worldwide industry leader in complex application-specific integrated circuit (ASIC) chips, with current designs as large as thirteen million gates and an average gate count per design of about 1.5 million. This compares to an industry average of about 500,000. Customized ASIC chips are growing in use, powering everything from computers to consumer electronics. In a recent report, Dataquest Inc. estimated that ASICs containing embedded DRAM represented a $450 million business in 1998, growing to $7.5 billion by 2002.

IBM has a unique combination of process technology leadership, system level experience and custom logic expertise that has improved the way chips are designed, helping manufacturers meet consumer and business demands for smaller, faster, lower-power electronic products. The company has led the industry in the introduction of new materials for chip making, including copper, silicon-on-insulator and silicon germanium -- complementary breakthroughs that improve the efficiencies of chip function.

For more information about these and other semiconductor products from IBM, visit the IBM Microelectronics Web site at http://www.chips.ibm.com.

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Dataquest market research from report: Embedded DRAM Revisited(August 24, 1998).