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IBM makes first transistor change in 40 years

Company uses new material to construct critical part of the transistor, which it says will lead to smaller, faster and more efficient chip circuitry.
Written by Lynn Tan @ Redhat, Contributor

IBM announced today that it has developed a way to improve the transistor--a move which its describes as the "first fundamental change to basic transistor in forty years".

Together with other development partners, including AMD, Sony and Toshiba, IBM uncovered a way to construct a critical part of the transistor with new material that it says creates "a path toward chip circuitry that is smaller, faster and more power-efficient than previously thought possible".

Dubbed "high-k metal gate", the new material--which provides superior electrical properties compared to its predecessor--is used in a critical portion of the transistor that controls its primary on-off switching function, according to Big Blue. As such, the transistor’s function is not only enhanced, but also reduces the size of the transistor "beyond limits being reached today", IBM said in a statement.

"The creation of the [transistor's critical] component with the new material was accomplished without requiring major tooling or process changes in manufacturing, [which is] an essential element if the technology is to be economically viable," it said.

According to IBM, the "long-sought" improvement to the transistor's tiny on-off switch, which serves as the basic building block of virtually all microchips made today, is expected to spawn a new generation of chips and lead to improvements in electronic systems ranging from computers to consumer electronics.

The IT giant added that the new technology can be incorporated into existing chip manufacturing lines with minimal changes to tooling and processes, making it economically viable.

IBM said it has inserted the technology into its semiconductor manufacturing line in East Fishkill, New York, and will apply it to products from next year.

"Until now, the chip industry was facing a major roadblock in terms of how far we could push current technology," said T.C. Chen, vice president of science and technology at IBM Research. "After more than 10 years of effort, we now have a way forward."

Chen added: "With chip technology so pervasive in our everyday lives, this work will benefit people in many ways."

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