IBM unveils new transistor technology

IBM has found a way to construct a critical part of microchip transistors with a new material, which could lead to chip circuitry that is smaller, faster and more power-efficient.

The company worked with AMD, Sony and Toshiba to develop the technology, which can be incorporated into existing chip manufacturing lines with minimal changes to tooling and processes.

According to IBM, the technology is expected to have widespread impact, leading to improvements in electronic systems of all kinds, from computers to consumer electronics. IBM has inserted the technology into its semiconductor manufacturing line and will apply it to products with chip circuits as small as 45 nanometres starting in 2008.

The technology, called ‘high-k metal gate,’ substitutes a new material into a critical portion of the transistor that controls its primary on/off switching function. The material provides superior electrical properties compared to its predecessor, enhancing the transistor’s function while also allowing the size of the transistor to be shrunk beyond limits being reached today.

As a result, the use of this material could allow the industry to continue on the path defined by ‘Moore’s Law,’ the chip industry axiom that predicts a doubling of the number of transistors on a chip every 12-18 months, thereby allowing chip performance and function to increase as well. The semiconductor industry has been able to maintain this rate of improvement for decades, but was reaching the limits of current technology, threatening a slowdown in further advancements.