IBM boosts performance, cuts power intake on chips

IBM said its high-k/metal gate technology on chips improves performance and reduces power consumption on chips.

IBM demonstrated technology Monday that improves performance and reduces power consumption on chips used in devices from mobile phones to high-performance servers.

The technology, called high-k/metal gate, boosts performance by up to 30 percent and reduces power consumption by up to 50 percent on chips manufactured using the 32-nanometer process, IBM said. This compares to chips manufactured using the 45-nanometer process operating at the similar voltage, according to IBM's benchmarks.

For example, when a 45-nm process chip operating at 1.1 volts is scaled to the 32-nm process with high-k metal gate technology it will have a 24 percent increase in speed and a 40 percent reduction in power consumption, said Mukesh Khare, senior manager at IBM's microelectronics division. If the voltage is dropped to 0.95 volts, the chip has an 18 percent increase in speed and a 45 percent reduction in power consumption.

A nanometer equals about one billionth of a meter. In chip manufacturing, the figure refers to the smallest features etched on chip surfaces. The measurement was done on circuits and components generally used to benchmark the speed and performance of a chip, Khare said.

The company is shipping an evaluation kit that includes chip models and shows customers how to design chips using the high-k/metal gate technology, Khare said. High-k/metal gate technology uses material to reduce electricity leaks on chips. IBM said it may incorporate the technology when it starts volume production of chips using the 32-nm process. IBM has said it plans to start volume production of chips using the 32-nm process in late 2009.

For computing devices to deliver power savings and performance gains, chip manufacturers are consistently upgrading manufacturing technologies. Intel last year started incorporating high-k/metal gate technology when it began manufacturing chips using the 45-nm process. Intel's chip rival, Advanced Micro Devices, does not use high-k metal gate technology in chips.

Monday's announcement was one more step in IBM's efforts to advance semiconductor technology. The company last month announced an alliance with Hitachi to jointly research the miniaturization of chip circuitry from 32-nanometer and 22-nm semiconductor. It is also developing silicon nanophotonics technology, which could replace some of the wires on a chip with pulses of light on tiny optical fibers for quicker and more power-efficient data transfers between cores on a chip. It is also working with U.S. universities to develop carbon nanotubes, smaller transistors that could deliver better performance than current transistors.

IBM made Monday's announcement with its partners, Chartered Semiconductor, Freescale Semiconductor, Infineon Technologies, Samsung, STMicroelectronics and Toshiba. IBM has a manufacturing partnership with AMD, and although AMD wasn't part of the official announcement, it will have access to the new technology, Khare said.

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