New Microchip Production Method Slated for Power4, AS/400

Back in 1997, IBM changed the face of the microchip industry when it became the first company to begin making computer chips with copper wires instead of aluminum, which had been the industry norm. The result was that the chips ran 20 to 30 percent faster.

With a growing need for faster access to the Internet and other devices, such as wireless phones and palm pilots, IBM recently announced that it has developed a new method that can deliver a 30 percent boost in computing speed and performance.

The chips will be used for next-generation networking equipment and Internet servers, including future generations of the Power4 processor, a new 170-million-transistor chip that is being developed for use in future RS/6000 and AS/400 servers.

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 and reduces electrical cross-talk between wires. 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.

Although IBM’s technique for developing these new chips is proprietary, the low-k material it uses, SiLK dielectric, is commercially available and produced by the Dow Chemical Company.

There is not a specific time frame on when this latest technology will be incorporated into the Power4 processor for use on future AS/400s, IBM says the first chips built with the new process are expected to be available next year.

“This represents a fundamental shift in the way chips are built,” says John Kelly, general manager of the IBM microelectronics division. “Along with the move from aluminum to copper to improve chip wiring, we believe this will help IBM maintain a one-to-two year lead over the rest of the industry.”

To speed the introduction of products based on this process, IBM also announced a new custom chip offering called Cu-11. An application specific integrated circuit (ASIC), Cu-11 will be manufactured with IBM’s 0.13 micron process technology, resulting in chip features as small as .11 microns.

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