IBM, Hitachi team up to advance chip research

Companies hoping to reduce the costs of developing advanced chip technologies

IBM and Hitachi are expected to announce a research agreement this week in which the companies will collaborate to improve semiconductor technology, including shrinking the features on silicon chips.

Researchers from the companies will try to accelerate the miniaturization of chip circuitry by researching at the atomic level for 32-nanometer and 22-nm semiconductors. Making chip circuits smaller should allow computing devices to deliver power savings and performance gains. It will also make manufacturing more efficient, IBM said.

By combining research capabilities and intellectual property, the companies also hope to reduce the costs of developing advanced chip technologies, IBM said.

The tie-up with Hitachi is not linked to the Cell processor, which is the result of a separate development partnership between IBM, Sony and Toshiba, IBM said. Though IBM and Hitachi work together on enterprise servers and other products, this is the first time they are collaborating on semiconductor technology.

Engineers from the companies will conduct research at IBM's Thomas J. Watson Research Center in Yorktown Heights, New York, and at the College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering's Albany NanoTech Complex, also in New York. Though the research does not apply directly to manufacturing, it could contribute to IBM's manufacturing processes as they relate to future silicon devices, IBM said.

Financial details of the two-year agreement were not disclosed. IBM officials declined comment on when products resulting from the research would hit the market.

Chip makers such as IBM, Intel and Advanced Micro Devices are constantly upgrading their manufacturing technologies to shrink chips. Intel began switching its manufacturing process to 45-nanometer chips last year, and AMD is scheduled to make a similar move later this year. Intel recently said it hopes to shrink the features on its chips to 22-nm by 2011.

A nanometer is equal to about one billionth of a meter. In chip manufacturing, the figure refers to the smallest features etched onto the surface of the chips. As chip makers build smaller and smaller transistors, they are dealing with features that are in some cases just a few atoms thick.

IBM already has a strong profile in advancing semiconductor technology. It is developing silicon nanophotonics technology, which could replace some of the wires on a chip with pulses of light on tiny optical fibers for quicker and more power-efficient data transfers between cores on a chip. It is also working with US universities to develop carbon nanotubes, smaller transistors that could deliver better performance than current transistors.

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