IBM cranks up semiconductor circuit speed

IBM Corp. says it has developed the world's fastest semiconductor circuit, running at 110GHz.

The company developed a ring oscillator circuit using a new variant of silicon germanium (SiGe) technology called SiGe 8HP. IBM has built and tested a range of circuits using the technology, including a high-speed networking circuit for use in optical networking, "but ring oscillators, although not typically used in products, are an ideal way to gauge the technology," IBM spokesman Greg Freeman said.

The SiGe technology will be used in optical-networking circuits to increase network speeds, "giving up to 100G bits per second," Freeman said.

The first chips using the SiGe 8HP technology are expected to be available later this year, IBM said. These will be developed by IBM itself and by partners, and will be used in telecommunication applications such as driving lasers in optical networks, Freeman saidSiGe technology has been pioneered by IBM since 1989. It involves combining germanium with the silicon base in a microchip to improve the conductivity of the base. Unlike chips using other high-speed materials such as gallium arsenide and indium phosphide, SiGe transistors can be manufactured using standard CMOS (complementary metal oxide semiconductor) processes. This means that manufacturers can change their production to high speed chips without expensive new equipment being needed in production lines.

SiGe also shows lower power consumption than alternative materials, IBM said in the statement.

Other SiGe variants, called SiGe 5PA and SoGe 5DM are being developed to suit the wireless communication market, IBM said.

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