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9/16/2009
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MIT Building Faster Processor

The new technique, involving combining two semiconductor materials, would allow manufacturers to speed up chips without shrinking the size of circuitry.

Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology are developing a faster processor without having to shrink the size of its circuitry, a technique used by today's chip makers.

MIT's advancement in chip-making, which involves combining two semiconductor materials into a single hybrid microchip, is important because today's manufacturers will eventually hit a limit on how far they can shrink transistors on a microprocessor to boost performance and power efficiency.

"We won't be able to continue improving silicon by scaling it down for long," Tom'as Palacios, assistant professor in MIT's Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, said in a statement released Tuesday. Palacios is leading the MIT team working on the latest advancement in chip making.

What the researchers have done is embed a gallium nitride layer into the same type of silicon substrate used by the electronics industry. The combining of the two materials not only produces a faster chip, but one that is highly efficient and can be manufactured using the standard technology used today in commercial silicon chips.

The new technique can be used to make a single chip on a wafer that's a square inch in size, much smaller than the eight- to 12-inch diameter wafers used to make multiple chips in conventional manufacturing processes. Researchers are now working on scaling up the technique.

"We have several ideas in that direction," Palacios said. "We are already discussing with several companies how to commercialize this technology and fabricate more complex circuits."

However, Palacios believes it could take a couple of years to get to the point where the technique could be commercialized.

Besides making microprocessors, the new technique could lead to more efficient mobile-phone manufacturing by making it possible to replace four or five separate chips made from different semiconductor materials into a single chip, Palacios said.

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