IBM goes for mini microchips
Tuesday 04 August 1998
The result could be smaller mobile phones and hand held computers able to perform more functions for longer on existing battery technologies.
But a British expert who has watched the development of the new technology over the past 30 years warned yesterday that chip companies will be reluctant to give up their multi-billion pound investments worldwide in chip plants to make old silicon wafers.
"It's like fusion power," said Peter Hemment, professor of semiconductor technology at Surrey University. "For decades that has been 30 years in the future, and it still is. This technology has been proven since the 1970s, and people have known they would have to switch to it. But they haven't, so far."
That position may be about to change radically. IBM said yesterday that it will start producing high volumes of processor chips using the new technology, called "silicon on insulator" (SOI), from next year.
The key to the breakthrough is a still-secret means of mass-producing SOI chips, which had previously only been made in limited volumes.
Among the first to benefit should be Apple Computer, for which IBM produces the PowerPC processor. That will be among the chips using SOI technology, which produces chips one-third smaller than the silicon wafer, and which can speed a chip up by at least 25 per cent without any other design changes.
SOI differs from existing chip designs by putting the millions of transistors that make up a processor on to an insulating surface instead of a semiconductive layer. Current thus flows more freely, reducing heating effects, and there is less interference between the transistors, separated by only thousandths of a millimetre.
The SOI chips can also be made radiation-proof - which led to their early adoption during the Cold War by the military, worried about the effects of a nuclear strike. One-off SOI chips are also used in satellites, which are exposed to harsh solar radiation.
Though it is easier to make circuits with the existing silicon fabrication method, the finished chip then requires higher currents to work properly and has a lower limit on size before bizarre quantum effects take over. SOI avoids those problems because of the insulating layer below the current- carrying silicon.
Global uncertainty in the chip market could put manufacturers off investing billions to set up SOI fabrication lines.
educationTo mark International Women's Day, Sarah Brown on how charities have brought proper joined-up thinking to the delivery of education
Lammily: Barbie-like doll hits Kickstarter fundraising target in a day
12 Years A Slave star Lupita Nyong’o on racism in beauty: 'Every day I woke up hoping my skin was a little lighter'
Belle Knox: How a porn star student from Duke University became bigger than Justin Bieber
Oscar Pistorius trial: Neighbour feared South African athlete would use gun that killed his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp to shoot himself
Top 10 most expensive cities in the world: Singapore named costliest place to live – but what about London?
Apple's Tim Cook: Business isn’t just about making profit
Thousands of young people forced to go without food after benefits wrongly stopped under 'draconian' new sanctions regime
Ukraine crisis: New navy chief 'defects' and surrenders Crimean HQ as Putin claims ultranationalists forced intervention
Ukraine crisis: Russia dismisses '3am ultimatum' as 'total nonsense'
Britain's top vet sparks controversy with call for ban on slashing animals' throats in 'ritual' slaughters for halal and kosher meat products
If you're horrified by a flame-roasted dog, you should be shocked at a hog roast
- 1 The future of sex: The first female condoms were derided, mistrusted and shunned - but will their modern counterparts catch on?
- 2 South African rhino finally put down after roaming Kruger park for days with horn hacked off and bullet in brain
- 3 Study suggests that 'gaydars' are real - at least for women
- 4 Man stabbed with Legend of Zelda Master Sword in serious condition
- 5 First clip of Outkast's Andre 3000 in Jimi Hendrix biopic All Is By My Side emerges
£80000 - £90000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...
Negotiable: Randstad Education Group: Urgent - Year 5 Teacher required for a I...
£110 - £150 per day + Negotiable DOE: Randstad Education Group: Year 3 teacher...
£120 - £165 per day + Competitive: Randstad Education Leeds: Primary Supply Te...