Developments to Watch
A DASH OF GERMANIUM ADDS ZIP TO SILICON CHIPS
Silicon has always been slower than gallium arsenide. That's why gallium arsenide is used for high-frequency chips in, for example, cellular phones. But that's about to change. IBM has pioneered a way of combining silicon with germanium that produces a tenfold speedup--to 1 billion cycles per second--in a chip from Analog Devices Inc. The secret? Sandwiching a region of germanium atoms into the silicon creates an electric slide of sorts that propels the electrons along their way.
Not only do the new chips consume less than a fifth of the power of gallium arsenide-based rivals, they will be cheaper to make, says IBM. That's because silicon-germanium chips can be made with the same equipment used for conventional chips. "We're leveraging $100 billion worth of installed equipment," says IBM Fellow Bernard S. Meyerson, who notes that Big Blue has cut its own gallium-arsenide research drastically. The unveiling of a working, 3,000-transistor part puts IBM ahead of such competitors as NEC, Daimler Benz, and Texas Instruments, which have just gotten around to showing single circuits made of the material.EDITED BY PETER COY