Thursday, May 3, 2007

IBM Brings Nature to Computer Chip Manufacturing

IBM has announced that it has developed a means of creating faster, more efficient computer processors by putting tiny holes in the chips, using the natural pattern-creating process that forms seashells, snowflakes, and enamel on teeth.

In chips running in IBM labs using the technique, the researchers have proven that the electrical signals on the chips can flow 35 percent faster, or the chips can consume 15 percent less energy compared to the most advanced chips using conventional techniques.

The IBM patented self-assembly process moves a nanotechnology manufacturing method that had shown promise in laboratories into a commercial manufacturing environment for the first time, providing the equivalent of two generations of Moore's Law wiring performance improvementsin a single step, using conventional manufacturing techniques.

This new form of insulation, commonly referred to as “airgaps” by scientists, is a misnomer, as the gaps are actually a vacuum, absent of air. The technique deployed by IBM causes a vacuum to form between the copper wires on a computer chip, allowing electrical signals to flow faster, while consuming less electrical power. The self-assembly process enables the nano-scale patterning required to form the gaps; this patterning is considerably smaller than current lithographic techniques can achieve.

A vacuum is believed to be the ultimate insulator for what is known as wiring capacitance, which occurs when two conductors, in this case adjacent wires on a chip, sap or siphon electrical energy from one another, generating undesirable heat and slowing the speed at which data can move through a chip.

I may be a science geek, but computer technology is my livelihood, so I'm always stoked about any advances in computer processing. And since so much of scientific progress now is being fueled by more and more powerful computer systems, technological advances like this should have a ripple effect across all of science and technology.

The self-assembly process already has been integrated with IBM's state-of-the-art manufacturing line in East Fishkill, New York and is expected to be fully incorporated in IBM’s manufacturing lines and used in chips in 2009. The chips will be used in IBM's server product lines and thereafter for chips IBM builds for other companies.

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