IBM Builds World's Fastest Communications Microchip

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IBM said it has built the world's fastest microchip, which runs at more than 110 GigaHertz, or one hundred and ten billion cycles per second, and will enable communications systems to run more quickly.

The integrated circuit is based on silicon germanium chip-making technology and will be used in data communications equipment like switches and routers that are used in optical communication networks, Armonk, N.Y.-based IBM said. Such equipment is sold by companies like networking giant Cisco Systems Inc.

In addition to connecting computers, telephones and other electronic devices in optical networks, the chips could be used in other high-performance settings, such as military applications.

At 110 GigaHertz, it is the fastest chip on the market. Frank Dzubeck, president of consulting group Communications Network Architects, said the advance is significant because it shows that IBM can move advances in silicon germanium from the research lab into development.

Most chips, such as the microprocessors that are the brains of computers, are made out of silicon, which is a base material that acts as a semiconductor. Silicon germanium also includes layers of germanium, a substance that is like silicon but which makes a transistor that can switch faster and perform better.

"This is reality here. Reality is 110 GigaHertz," Dzubeck said. "This is deliverable as we speak."

IBM said that the discovery indicates that silicon germanium is outperforming other technologies as researchers develop smaller, faster chips. IBM's current fastest version of the silicon germanium chip runs at about 80 GigaHertz.

It also said that silicon germanium works at high frequencies while also consuming less power than its competitors.

The push towards ever-faster chips is described in Moore's Law, created by Intel Corp. co-founder Gordon Moore, which says that the number of transistors on a chip doubles every 18 months.

Some IBM competitors are also working on developing faster microchips based on silicon germanium technology. Competitor Conexant Systems Inc. in December said at a conference in December that it is working on a circuit that runs at speeds of 200 GigaHertz, or 200 billion cycles per second.

IBM said it expects its 110 GigaHertz chip to be available by the end of the year. It will unveil details at the Gorham Compound Semiconductor Outlook Conference in San Mateo, Calif. on Monday.

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