IBM is claiming a breakthrough that could speed semiconductor throughput by 40 per cent, but Intel claims the technology will not be applicable for some years.
The technology allows the use of copper rather than aluminium in its circuitry, which will make semiconductors cheaper and smaller as well as faster.
Previously, chip manufacturers were unable to create a connection between copper and silicon, which broke down in contact with the metal. Copper's conductivity is far higher than aluminium's and, while more expensive to buy, the invention will make its use economic because of higher yields and better performance. Big Blue estimates manufacturing will be up to 30 per cent cheaper than using an aluminium process.
The technique can be used not only for microprocessors but for memory and other packages including networking chips.
While the technology is patented by IBM, it will probably not be long before other companies use it. US reports said that Andy Grove, chief executive of Intel, said yesterday that it would be some years before the breakthrough had a real impact on the industry.
The decision for IBM will now be whether to step up production and sales of its clone Intel processor and incorporate the new technology when possible or, instead, seek to license the new approach to others.
The technology is called CMOS 7S and will allow the production of chips down to the .2 micron level. Current state of the art processes used by both Intel and IBM gets down only to .25 micron. Furthermore, chips produced using the technology will allow for up to 12 million logic gates on a single chip, amounting up to 200 million transistors on a unit.
Voltage levels will also be reduced to 1.8volts from 2.5volts currently.
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