Archive for the ‘semiconductors’ Category
It’s Monday, and here in Austin, Texas, it officially got cold overnight.
Yesterday, it was partly cloudy and almost steamy warm. And this morning, it’s like I was transplanted back to IBM’s Somers, New York, location, where the wind streams across the Westchester landscape and chills native Texans like me to their core.
But enough talk about the weather. I want to get to the topic of the day: Making little things that move information faster.
Earlier today, IBM announced a major advance in the ability to use light instead of electrical signals to transmit information for future computing.
The breakthrough technology — called “silicon nanophotonics” — allows the integration of different optical components side-by-side with electrical circuits on a single silicon chip using, for the first time, sub-100nm semiconductor technology.
Silicon nanophotonics takes advantage of pulses of light for communication and provides a super highway for large volumes of data to move at rapid speeds between computer chips in servers, large data centers, and supercomputers, thus alleviating the limitations of congested data traffic and high-cost traditional interconnects.
Big Light, Bigger Data
The amount of data being created and transmitted over enterprise networks continues to grow due to an explosion of new applications and services.
Silicon nanophotonics, now primed for commercial development, can enable the industry to keep pace with increasing demands in chip performance and computing power. Businesses are entering a new era of computing that requires systems to process and analyze, in real-time, huge volumes of information known as “big data.”
Silicon nanophotonics technology provides answers to big data challenges by seamlessly connecting various parts of large systems, whether few centimeters or few kilometers apart from each other, and move terabytes of data via pulses of light through optical fibers.
Building Proof Beyond Concept
Building on its initial proof of concept in 2010, IBM has solved the key challenges of transferring the silicon nanophotonics technology into the commercial foundry.
By adding a few processing modules into a high-performance 90nm CMOS fabrication line, a variety of silicon nanophotonics components such as wavelength division multiplexers (WDM), modulators, and detectors are integrated side-by-side with a CMOS electrical circuitry.
As a result, single-chip optical communications transceivers can be manufactured in a conventional semiconductor foundry, providing significant cost reduction over traditional approaches.
IBM’s CMOS nanophotonics technology demonstrates transceivers to exceed the data rate of 25Gbps per channel. In addition, the technology is capable of feeding a number of parallel optical data streams into a single fiber by utilizing compact on-chip wavelength-division multiplexing devices.
Learning More About Nanophotonics
The ability to multiplex large data streams at high data rates will allow future scaling of optical communications capable of delivering terabytes of data between distant parts of computer systems.
“This technology breakthrough is a result of more than a decade of pioneering research at IBM,” said Dr. John E. Kelly, Senior Vice President and Director of IBM Research. “This allows us to move silicon nanophotonics technology into a real-world manufacturing environment that will have impact across a range of applications.”
Further details will be presented this week by Dr. Solomon Assefa at the IEEE International Electron Devices Meeting (IEDM) in the talk titled, “A 90nm CMOS Integrated Nano-Photonics Technology for 25Gbps WDM Optical Communications Applications.”
You can learn more about IBM silicon integrated nanophotonics technology here.
Since I posted about Hurricane Sandy earlier in the day, I’ve seen some pretty stunning pictures and video coming in, and heard more reports from friends in and around the New York City area.
The story of the crane toppling over on a very tall building being built on West 57th Street, between 6th and 7th Avenues (my old IBM office is at Madison and 57th, further east) was most stunning. You can find some of the pics or video on CNN.
While we wait to discover how big a problem Sandy presents to the northeast Atlantic coast, I’ll share with you a diversion focusing on a much smaller topic — but one with potentially huge implications.
IBM scientists recently demonstrated a new approach to carbon technology that opens up the path for commercial fabrication of dramatically smaller, faster and more powerful computer chips.
For the first time, more than ten thousand working transistors made of nano-sized tubes of carbon have been precisely placed and tested in a single chip using standard semiconductor processes.
These carbon devices are poised to replace and outperform silicon technology allowing further miniaturization of computing components and leading the way for future microelectronics.
Four Decades Of Innovation
Aided by rapid innovation over four decades, silicon microprocessor technology has continually shrunk in size and improved in performance, thereby driving the information technology revolution.
Silicon transistors, tiny switches that carry information on a chip, have been made smaller year after year, but they are approaching a point of physical limitation.
Their increasingly small dimensions, now reaching the nanoscale, will prohibit any gains in performance due to the nature of silicon and the laws of physics. Within a few more generations, classical scaling and shrinkage will no longer yield the sizable benefits of lower power, lower cost and higher speed processors that the industry has become accustomed to.
Carbon nanotubes represent a new class of semiconductor materials whose electrical properties are more attractive than silicon, particularly for building nanoscale transistor devices that are a few tens of atoms across.
Electrons in carbon transistors can move easier than in silicon-based devices allowing for quicker transport of data. The nanotubes are also ideally shaped for transistors at the atomic scale, an advantage over silicon.
These qualities are among the reasons to replace the traditional silicon transistor with carbon — and coupled with new chip design architectures — will allow computing innovation on a miniature scale for the future.
The approach developed at IBM labs paves the way for circuit fabrication with large numbers of carbon nanotube transistors at predetermined substrate positions. The ability to isolate semiconducting nanotubes and place a high density of carbon devices on a wafer is crucial to assess their suitability for a technology — eventually more than one billion transistors will be needed for future integration into commercial chips.
Hardly A Carbon Copy
Until now, scientists have been able to place at most a few hundred carbon nanotube devices at a time, not nearly enough to address key issues for commercial applications.
Originally studied for the physics that arises from their atomic dimensions and shapes, carbon nanotubes are being explored by scientists worldwide in applications that span integrated circuits, energy storage and conversion, biomedical sensing and DNA sequencing.
This achievement was published today in the peer-reviewed journal Nature Nanotechnology.
Carbon, a readily available basic element from which crystals as hard as diamonds and as soft as the “lead” in a pencil are made, has wide-ranging IT applications.
Carbon nanotubes are single atomic sheets of carbon rolled up into a tube. The carbon nanotube forms the core of a transistor device that will work in a fashion similar to the current silicon transistor, but will be better performing. They could be used to replace the transistors in chips that power our data-crunching servers, high performing computers and ultra fast smart phones.
Earlier this year, IBM researchers demonstrated carbon nanotube transistors can operate as excellent switches at molecular dimensions of less than ten nanometers – the equivalent to 10,000 times thinner than a strand of human hair and less than half the size of the leading silicon technology. Comprehensive modeling of the electronic circuits suggests that about a five to ten times improvement in performance compared to silicon circuits is possible.
There are practical challenges for carbon nanotubes to become a commercial technology notably, as mentioned earlier, due to the purity and placement of the devices. Carbon nanotubes naturally come as a mix of metallic and semiconducting species and need to be placed perfectly on the wafer surface to make electronic circuits. For device operation, only the semiconducting kind of tubes is useful which requires essentially complete removal of the metallic ones to prevent errors in circuits.
Also, for large scale integration to happen, it is critical to be able to control the alignment and the location of carbon nanotube devices on a substrate.
To overcome these barriers, IBM researchers developed a novel method based on ion-exchange chemistry that allows precise and controlled placement of aligned carbon nanotubes on a substrate at a high density — two orders of magnitude greater than previous experiments, enabling the controlled placement of individual nanotubes with a density of about a billion per square centimeter.
The process starts with carbon nanotubes mixed with a surfactant, a kind of soap that makes them soluble in water. A substrate is comprised of two oxides with trenches made of chemically-modified hafnium oxide (HfO2) and the rest of silicon oxide (SiO2). The substrate gets immersed in the carbon nanotube solution and the nanotubes attach via a chemical bond to the HfO2 regions while the rest of the surface remains clean.
By combining chemistry, processing and engineering expertise, IBM researchers are able to fabricate more than ten thousand transistors on a single chip.
Furthermore, rapid testing of thousands of devices is possible using high volume characterization tools due to compatibility to standard commercial processes.
As this new placement technique can be readily implemented, involving common chemicals and existing semiconductor fabrication, it will allow the industry to work with carbon nanotubes at a greater scale and deliver further innovation for carbon electronics.
You can learn more in the animation below.
Steve Lohr with The New York Times has gone long on “big data.”
In his piece, Lohr explains how big data has gone mainstream, and using IBM’s Watson computer that beat “Jeopardy!” world champions last year as a key inflection point in its evolution, and also quoting IBM exec and technical fellow Rod Smith.
Rod Smith: “Big Data is really about new uses and new insights, not so much about the data itself.”
And on Watson: “The Watson computer from I.B.M. that beat human “Jeopardy” champions last year was a triumph of Big Data computing. In theory, Big Data could improve decision-making in fields from business to medicine, allowing decisions to be based increasingly on data and analysis rather than intuition and experience.”
I mentioned in some prior posts the upcoming Smarter Commerce Global Summit IBM will be hosting at the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resort (which you can learn more about and register for here).
Just out of curiosity, I went and did a query to see if any sessions would include “big data” as a featured topic, and as it turns out, there were four, including “Crunch Big Data for Digital Analytics Using Netinsight on Premises and Netezza,” and “Big Data, Big Campaigns: Using Unica Campaign Management & IBM Netezza Data Warehousing Appliances.”
So, it’s pretty clear that the era of “big data” is certainly upon us with respect to marketing as well.
I also wanted to highlight some news just emerging from our friends in IBM Research.
Yesterday, they announced a new breakthrough that has potential impact for semiconductor transistor manufacturing.
With the announcement, they revealed the first-ever direct mapping of the formation of a persistent spin helix in a semiconductor, an effort jointly conducted between IBM Researchers and scientists with ETH Zurich.
Until now, it was unclear whether or not electronic spins posessed the capability to preserve the encoded information long enough before rotating.
But through this new experiment, they demonstrated that synchronizing electrons extends the spin lifetime of the electron by 30 times to 1.1 nanoseconds — the same time it takes for an existing 1 GHz process to cycle.
Why do we care?
Well, today’s computing technology encodes and processes data by the electrical charge of electrons. But that technique is limiting, as the semiconductor dimensions continue to shrink to the point where the flow of electrons can no longer be controlled. Spintronics could surmount this approaching impasse by harnessing the spin of electrons instead of their charge.
This new understanding in “spintronics” not only gives scientists unprecedented control over the magnetic movements inside devices, but also opens up new possibilities for creating more energy efficient electronics.
However, this effort could get colder before it warms up and leads to massive technology transfer into the marketplace: Spintronics research takes place at very low temperatures at which electron spins interact minimally with the environment.
In the case of this particular research, IBM scientists worked at 40 Kelvin (-233 Celsius, -387 Fahrenheit)!!!
You can read the full scientific paper entitled “Direct mapping of the formation of a persistent spin helix” by M.P. Walser, C. Reichl, W. Wegscheider and G. Salis was published online in Nature Physics, DOI 10.1038/NPHYS2383 (12 August 2012).
Did you know that they’re now going to be making chips in upstate New York?
No, we’re not talking potato chips. Although they may make those as well, for all I know.
We’re talking advanced computer chips that will be jointly manufactured by GLOBALFOUNDRIES and IBM at the companies’ semiconductor fabs in New York’s “Tech Valley.”
The chips will be the first silicon produced at GLOBALFOUNDRIES’ newest and most advanced manufacturing facility, “Fab 8,” in Saratoga County.
The new products started life in production at IBM’s 300mm fab in East Fishkill, and the two companies expect to ramp up to volume production in the second half of this year.
The new chips will be based on IBM’s 32nm, Silicon-on-Insulator (SOI) technology, which was jointly developed with GLOBALFOUNDRIES and other members of IBM’s Process Development Alliance, with early research at the University at Albany’s College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering.
The new technology vastly improves microprocessor performance in multi-core designs and speeds the movement of graphics in gaming, networking, and other image intensive, multi-media applications.
Watson, What Are You Made Of?
The SOI process was used to build the microprocessor that powered IBM Watson, the question-answering computer that won the “Jeopardy!” quiz show in early 2011.
GLOBALFOUNDRIES’ new Fab 8 campus, located in the Luther Forest Technology Campus about 100 miles north of the IBM campus in East Fishkill, stands as one of the most technologically advanced wafer fabs in the world and the largest leading-edge semiconductor foundry in the United States.
When fully ramped, the total clean-room space will be approximately 300,000 square feet and will be capable of a total output of approximately 60,000 wafers per month.
Fab 8 will focus on leading-edge manufacturing at 32/28nm and below.
The companies’ 32/28nm technology uses the same “Gate First” approach to High-k Metal Gate (HKMG) that has reached volume production in GLOBALFOUNDRIES’ Fab 1 in Dresden, Germany.
This approach to HKMG offers higher performance with a 10-20% cost saving over HKMG solutions offered by other foundries, while still providing the full entitlement of scaling from the 45/40nm node.
“IBM has helped make New York State one of the world’s premier locations for semiconductor design and manufacturing,” said Michael Cadigan, general manager, IBM Microelectronics, of the effort. “Recently, we announced that we would spend $3.6 billion researching and developing new silicon technology in New York. We bring the skills, investments and partnerships that keep New York at the forefront of advanced silicon development and manufacturing.”