IBM Corp. last week introduced a new process for building high-speed transistors that could translate into smaller wireless phones.
The process, called silicon-on-insulator, places a thin layer of silicon on top of an insulator such as silicon-oxide or glass in chips. Transistors then are built on top of the layer, which reduces the harmful electrical effects that drain energy and hinder performance, said the company.
IBM said its engineers have designed chips with performance improvements of up to 35 percent using SOI.
When performance levels are held constant, SOI chips can require as little as one-third the power of today’s microchips, said the company. Reducing the power necessary to operate chip circuitry can extend significantly the battery life of portable devices such as wireless phones, mobile computers and personal digital assistants, said IBM.
“We believe SOI, with its high-performance and low-power characteristics, is a significant breakthrough in chip technology,” said Mike Attardo, general manager of IBM’s Microelectronics Division. “SOI and other advanced chip technologies will enable more powerful voice-recognition software to be broadly used in home computers, development of smaller cell phones and batteries lasting many hours longer than they do today and the creation of entire new classes of portable devices for accessing the Internet.”
The company said it already is producing SOI-based chips in its East Fishkill, N.Y., pilot production line and will introduce the technology in its high-volume Burlington, Vt., manufacturing lines in the first half of next year.
The announcement of the SOI technology is the culmination of more than three decades of research.
“SOI technology has something of a checkered past,” said Bijan Davari, IBM fellow and director of advanced logic technology development for IBM’s Microelectronics Division. “There have been a number of false starts and offshoot technologies that have failed, but the basic principles were sound.
“The significance of this announcement is that we finally found the recipe for applying SOI in a real manufacturing environment for real products,” continued Davari.
IBM increasingly has been active in the market for semiconductors used in wireless phones. The company in February acquired CommQuest Technologies Inc., which offers a tri-band Global System for Mobile communications chipset. In June, IBM’s Microelectronics division announced a $100 million investment in several initiatives designed to expand its presence in the custom microchip business.
Last year, IBM introduced a process substituting copper for aluminum in the wire design of chips. Copper is a better conductor of electricity, according to the company.