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IBM and AMD take the strain for speeding up transistors

Just as our last issue of 2004 was zipping out to customers, IBM and AMD announced that they have jointly perfected a new transistor technology that w

Just as our last issue of 2004 was zipping out to customers, IBM and AMD announced that they have jointly perfected a new transistor technology that will result in 24% faster transistors, operating at the same power levels, on microprocessor chips.

It calls the process “strained silicon” and points the way to higher performance, lower power, processors.

As transistors get smaller, they operate faster, but also risk operating at higher power and heat levels due to electrical leakage or inefficient switching.

This newly developed strained silicon helps overcome these issues. AMD and IBM also claim to be the first companies to introduce strained silicon that works with silicon-on-insulator (SOI) technology.

The two companies talked the world details of the technique at the 2004 IEEE International Electron Devices Meeting in San Francisco, in December.

Strained silicon is a technique in which a lattice pattern of silicon atoms is either stretched or compressed to improve the speed at which electrons flow through the silicon. Positive transistors run faster when they are compressed, and negative transistors run faster when they are stretched.

Both companies plan to put the technique, which they call “dual stress liner” to work swiftly, and will have AMD Athlons and Opterons and IBM Power architecture chips out with it in by mid year.

The dual stress liner with SOI technology was developed by engineers from IBM, AMD, Sony and Toshiba, who are partners in the Cell chip which is expected to revolutionize digital video applications such as HDTV screen addressing.

We can’t help thinking that a combination of IBM’s manufacturing and research expertise driving both through the AMD chips and its own Power range, forms a pincer movement on Intel, giving it price competition in its traditional markets while denying it access to new markets. Somehow we don’t think this process will get licensed to Intel.

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