IBM to unveil cutting-edge chip design

IBM said it will introduce a new chip design next week that combines two cutting-edge semiconductor technologies in a single product. The result, according to IBM, will be a versatile, high-performance chip for use in next-generation wireless telephones and other advanced communications products.

Big Blue's design makes use of copper wires, which can carry signals between transistors at faster rates than can traditional aluminum wiring. The design also employs a silicon germanium (SiGe) process, which greatly improves the performance of the transistors themselves, IBM said in a statement.

Although each technology has been used separately, IBM will be the first company to combine copper and SiGe in a single, high-performance chip, said Nathan Brookwood, principal analyst at Insight 64, a market research firm.

"By combining these two rather esoteric technologies, IBM should be able to produce chips that go even faster than merely using copper with traditional CMOS (complementary metal oxide semiconductor), or silicon germanium with traditional aluminum," Brookwood said.

IBM plans to target the chips for use in advanced communications products, including Internet-ready 3G (third-generation) wireless phones, and 40 Gigabit-per-second SONET (synchronous optical network) equipment, the company said.

Getting the chip from the design stage into commercial production won't be easy, however. Both technologies -- especially silicon germanium -- are complex and tricky to manufacture, Brookwood said.

"It will be a real feather in IBM's cap that they've been able to combine these two," he said.

IBM didn't say when it expects to begin producing the chips commercially. Further details will be presented at the International Electron Device Meeting, a conference scheduled for next week in Washington, D.C., IBM said.

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James Niccolai

PC World
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