Overclocker’s trick helps IBM run frozen chip at 500GHz

Super-fast chips could open up new markets, Big Blue says

IBM researchers have pushed a silicon-based microprocessor to speeds of 500GHz — more than 250 times faster than a typical commercial chip.

The research shows that chip-makers can reach high speeds with low-cost manufacturing techniques and commercial silicon-based chip technology, says John D Cressler, a professor at Georgia Tech’s School of Electrical and Computer Engineering.

The new research results, announced last week by IBM, could also lead to more efficient chips, opening up new markets. Running at extremely high speeds, these chips could now find new applications in commercial communications systems, defence electronics, space exploration and remote sensing, says IBM.

A team of scientists from IBM and Georgia Tech used an old overclocker’s technique to avoid melting the chip at such high speeds. Extreme gamers chill their chips with refrigerated mineral oil — the science team was able to make the chip much colder, again.

First, the researchers built a prototype silicon-germanium (SiGe) chip that ran at 350GHz at room temperature. IBM has been mixing germanium with silicon since 1998, using the mixture to make chips for cellphones and other mobile devices that demand reduced power consumption.

Then the team used liquid helium to freeze their microprocessor to 451 degrees below zero Fahrenheit (4.5 degrees Kelvin), just above absolute zero. With no risk of melting the chip, the team pushed its speed up to 500GHz.

By contrast, the latest commercial dual-core server chips, from Intel and Advanced Micro Devices, run at speeds of between 2.5GHz to 3.5GHz.

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