IBM: Chip speed could double with new transistor

Promising another leap in system performance, IBM Corp. said Monday that it developed a transistor that has two gates instead of one, allowing it to operate at up to twice the speed of today's conventional transistors.

The "double-gate" transistor, expected to show up in microprocessors in about five years, can also be produced much smaller than transistors used today, which means more transistors can be packed together on a chip, according to IBM.

Transistors are the basic building block of microchips. The devices act like tiny switches with a "gate" that controls the flow of electrons. Shrinking of transistors has been the foremost way of increasing chip performance and meeting Moore's law, the principle that says the number of transistors on a chip will double every 18 to 24 months.

"If you keep shrinking like the industry has done in the past, we would have had transistors that never shut off and electrical leakage," said Aidan Kelly, manager of IBM's custom logic design centers in Europe. "The double-gate transistor represents a design change, delivering better performance at a smaller scale."

The performance of chips largely depends on the ability of the millions of transistors to switch on and off quickly and completely with the least amount of energy, he said.

Earlier this year, IBM announced another technology, dubbed "strained silicon," that it said could boost chip speed by 35 percent. Stretching the silicon -- the material at the heart of chips -- allows electrons to move faster through transistors, according to IBM, which together with Intel Corp. leads the semiconductor speed race.

IBM will present its work on the double-gate transistor as well as more than 20 other papers at the International Electronic Device Manufacturers (IEDM) conference in Washington, D.C., this week.

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