500 GHz IBM Chip Breaks Speed Record

Researchers at IBM and Georgia Tech said Tuesday that they had created the first silicon-based chip capable of operating at speeds of over 500 GHz. The processor beat the previous speed record by 125 gigahertz, and is some 125 times faster than today's fastest chips.

To accomplish this feat, the researchers froze the chip to near absolute zero -- minus 451 degrees Fahrenheit. IBM said that computer simulations seem to indicate that the silicon-germanium (SiGe) technology could eventually support near-terahertz operation, even at room temperature.

At room temperature, the chip operated at 350 GHz, slightly slower than the record but still over 87 times faster than the fastest commercially available chips. According to IBM, SiGe chips operate faster at very cold temperatures.

"This groundbreaking collaborative research by Georgia Tech and IBM redefines the performance limits of silicon-based semiconductors," said Bernie Meyerson, vice president and chief technologist at IBM. "IBM is committed to working closely with our academic and industry partners to deliver the insight and innovation that will enable a new generation of high-performance, energy efficient microprocessors."

The two organizations said that these ultra-high performance chips could have several important uses, including commercial communications systems, defense electronics, space exploration, and remote sensing.

It also shows the industry that silicon-based chips are far from reaching their performance limit, which means they could be produced using conventional methods and at a reasonable cost. The two companies plan to continue work in SiGe technology in order to spur innovation in processor design.

"Understanding the basic physics of these advanced transistors arms us with knowledge that could make the next generation of silicon-based integrated circuits even better," said John D. Cressler, Byers Professor in Georgia Tech's School of Electrical and Computer Engineering.

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