IBM Promises 30 Percent Performance Improvement on New Chip

Jim Martin

Faced with having to provide faster access to the Internet and other technologies, IBM announced on Monday that it has developed a process to make its microchips up to 30 percent faster.

The new production method revolves around an advanced insulation material called low-k dielectric, which protects the millions of individual copper circuits on a chip. The end result is that the chips will function with wires as close as 0.13 micron, compared with 0.25 micron for the majority of chips now produced.

In order to achieve the 0.13 micron level, IBM developed a new insulation process using silk, a low-k dielectric material that is available from the Dow Chemical Co. Other materials and tooling are generally available and help make it the first viable low-k process for copper chip fabrication, according to IBM.

“It is an absolutely essential process without which you couldn’t continue making both the Internet and its devices more powerful and capable,” says Bijan Davari, VP of IBM microelectronics’ semiconductor research and development center, in a recent interview.

IBM is already producing chips using the new low-k process on a pilot production line in Fishkill, N.Y. with plans to start full production in the first half of 2001. The chips will be used to produce next generation Power4 processors intended for use in the AS/400 and RS/6000 servers.

In 1997, IBM excited the marketplace by developing chips with copper instead of aluminum, resulting in the chips running 20 to 30 percent faster. With this latest insulation process, another 20 to 30 percent gain is forecast.

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