Not content with the advances it has made in copper chip technology, IBM last week unveiled a new way of making chips faster: Silicon on Insulator (SOI).
In simple terms, by placing a layer of insulating material, such as oxygen, between the transistors and the silicon substrate of a chip, it is possible to reduce the capacitance of the transistors. The net result of this is that the chip needs less power to maintain the same level of performance as an equivalent conventional chip, thus increasing performance without increasing power.
The potential reduction in power consumption heralds great possibilities for mobile devices such as handheld computers, where power efficiency is vital. When used in the production of memory chips, the technology can also help reduce the number of data "soft errors" caused by cosmic rays and background radiation.
SOI technology is not a completely new idea. Semiconductor manufacturers have been working on the idea for several years, but IBM is the first company to produce a fully working CPU using the technology.
Joe D'elia, senior analyst at Dataquest, told PC Week: "This development is significant, but it does not mean a new era in semiconductor production.
"It is one of the ongoing technical developments needed for manufacturers to keep up with Moore's Law."
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