IBM hasannounced a new semiconductor technology that will allow logic and memory circuits to be built on a single silicon chip without sacrificing performance.
Logic circuits are used to process information, while memory circuits store information, and these two functions usually have been carried out by two separate chips, analysts said. Several chipmakers have combined logic and memory on a single chip (known as embedded DRAM), including Toshiba Corp., Siemens AG and Mitsubishi, but until now combining logic and memory has had a performance cost, they said.
IBM's achievement is to combine logic circuits and memory circuits without performance detriment, according to Phillip Bergman, a spokesman for IBM Electronics.
"It's breaking through the last barrier of putting entire systems... on to one chip," Bergman said.
IBM is trumpeting the technology as a way to produce cheaper electronic products, from PCs to cell phones to video games. If fewer chips are needed to build a system, the overall cost of manufacturing electronic products decreases, and using fewer chips will also let manufacturers shrink the size of their products, according Bergman.
IBM said its new system-on-a-chip technology will allow 24 million "gates" or circuits to be stored on one chip, representing eight times the processing power and up to four times the memory found on a typical PC today. The chips will be based on IBM's micron copper wiring and circuits of 0.15 micron, which are each 1/600th the width of a human hair.
"In the embedded DRAM area this is a technological leap," said Jesse Huffman, senior analyst with Cahners/Instat Group in Cameron Park, California. "By tweaking the DRAM process to make it more compatible with logic process, they've speeded up all the on-chip access time and cycle times for the DRAM cells and arrays."
The result will be faster chips and, ultimately, sharper pictures and greater storage capacity in a host of consumer products, from digital cameras to set-top boxes, Huffman said.
IBM plans to start designing chips with this capability in April. Initial chips will be designed for use in hubs, routers, switches and other Internet infrastructure gear, IBM's Phillips said. Infrastructure gear products which incorporate the chips should be on the market in around a year, with consumer devices showing up in the year after that, he said.
IBM's breakthrough puts the Armonk, New York-based company in a very good position relative to other chip makers, according to analyst Huffman.
"IBM could be six months to a year a head of a small pack, (including) Toshiba, Mitsubishi and Siemens," Huffman said. "They're in the driver's seat and may stay there, if no one is able to leapfrog what they're able to do."
IBM can be reached at http://www.ibm.com/.
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