4 November 2002
IBM claims speediest silicon transistor
East Fishkill, N.Y. – IBM said Monday it has created the world's fastest silicon-based transistor, performing nearly 300% faster than today's production devices and 65% faster than previously reported silicon transistors.
Bernard Meyerson, IBM Fellow and chief technologist, IBM Technology Group, predicted the new transistor, which uses a modified design and IBM's silicon germanium (SiGe) bipolar technology, will lead to communications chips with speeds of more than 150 GHz in about two years. The transistor is also expected to result in substantially lower power consumption and lower cost for communications systems and other electronic products.
"The industry recognizes the importance of SiGe technology, and everyone is racing to add it to their arsenal," said Meyerson. "SiGe is imperative for true system-on-chip designs that pull together standard logic circuitry and higher-speed wireless communications circuitry. And while others are introducing their first versions, this is IBM's fifth generation of SiGe technology."
Research firm IC Insights, in its 2002 McClean Report, estimates SiGe sales totaled $320 million in 2001 and are projected to grow to about $2.7 billion by 2006. The report estimates that IBM SiGe activity accounted for more than 80 percent of total 2001 SiGe business.
IBM will present technology details in a paper, titled SiGe HBTs with Cut-off Frequency Near 300 GHz at the International Electron Devices Meeting (IEDM) to be held in San Francisco, 9-11 December.
Transistor speeds are determined primarily by how quickly electrons pass through them. This is dependent on the semiconductor material used to fabricate the transistor and the distance electrons must travel through it. The material used in most standard transistors is silicon.
In 1989, IBM's Research Division improved the silicon-based technology by adding germanium to speed electrical flow, improving performance and reducing power consumption. In its latest development, IBM said it is combining the use of the SiGe material with an improved transistor design that can shorten the electrical path to help speed up the device.
In standard complementary metal oxide semiconductor (CMOS) transistors, electrons travel horizontally, so shortening the path requires that the transistor be made narrower. This is an increasingly difficult and expensive task that requires new manufacturing tools, IBM said.
Meyerson said IBM employed a bipolar transistor – a different transistor configuration that is critical for chips to drive high-speed wireless communications products. In bipolar transistors, electrons travel vertically, so the speed can be improved by reducing the height – rather than the width – of the transistor. IBM used a novel vertical profile scaling technique to reduce the height of the transistor, shortening the path of electrical flow and helping improve performance.
IBM's SiGe chips are built on existing manufacturing lines, allowing the technology to be introduced rapidly and at minimal cost, IBM said. This has expanded the use of SiGe technology for extending function and battery life in cellular phones and other RF (radio frequency, or wireless) communications products.
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