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6/20/2006
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IBM's 'Frozen Chip' Claims Speed Record

IBM and Georgia Tech claimed they have demonstrated the first silicon-based chip that can operate above 500 GHz by cryogenically "freezing" the circuit. By comparison, 500 GHz is more than 250 times faster than today's cell phones, which typically operate at approximately 2 GHz.

SAN JOSE, Calif. — IBM Corp. and the Georgia Institute of Technology Tuesday (June 20) claimed they have broken the silicon speed record, thanks in part to a "frozen chip."

IBM (Armonk, N.Y.) and Georgia Tech (Atlanta) claimed that they have demonstrated the first silicon-based chip capable of operating at frequencies above 500 GHz by cryogenically "freezing" the circuit to minus 451 degrees Fahrenheit (4.5 Kelvins).

By comparison, 500 GHz is more than 250 times faster than today's cell phones, which typically operate at approximately 2 GHz, according to the organizations.

The experiments, conducted jointly by IBM and Georgia Tech, are part of a project to explore the ultimate speed limits of silicon germanium (SiGe) devices, which are said to operate faster at cold temperatures.

Ultrahigh-frequency SiGe circuits have potential applications in commercial communications systems, military electronics, space and remote sensing. The research could make possible a new class of powerful, low-energy chips that will deliver future applications like HDTV and movie-quality video to cellphones, automobiles and other devices.

The chips used in the research are from a prototype fourth-generation SiGe technology fabricated by IBM on 200-mm wafers. At room temperature, the circuits operated at approximately 350 GHz.

"For the first time, Georgia Tech and IBM have demonstrated that speeds of half a trillion cycles per second can be achieved in a commercial silicon-based technology, using large wafers and silicon-compatible low-cost manufacturing techniques," John Cressler, Byers Professor in Georgia Tech's School of Electrical and Computer Engineering, and a researcher in the Georgia Electronic Design Center at Georgia Tech, said in a statement.

"This groundbreaking collaborative research by Georgia Tech and IBM redefines the performance limits of silicon-based semiconductors," Bernie Meyerson, vice president and chief technologist at IBM Systems and Technology Group, said in the same statement.

In addition to Cressler, the team included Georgia Tech PhD students Ramkumar Krithivasan and Yuan Lu; Jae-Sun Rieh of Korea University in Seoul (formerly with IBM); and Marwan Khater, David Ahlgren and Greg Freeman of IBM Microelectronics (East Fishkill, N.Y.) The accomplishment will be reported in the July issue of the journal IEEE Electron Device Letters.

—Nicolas Mokhoff contributed to this article from Manhasset, N.Y.

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