Seeking to feed a perceived need for speed, Intel Corp. and IBM last week touted microprocessor advances that will result in chips that are capable of setting new speed records.
At the International Electronic Device Manufacturers show in San Francisco, Intel, of Santa Clara, Calif., announced its success in producing smaller transistors to fuel faster processors, while IBM showed new material its adding to chips to increase processor speeds.
Despite the advances, however, the revved-up chips could end up being throttled back by other, more sluggish components in computers. In general, while processors have scaled up rapidly in performance year after year, the same hasnt held true for the other components in a computer, most notably hard drives, the system bus that moves data in and out of processors, and memory chips.
"Its a multidimensional problem," said Russ Lange, IBM fellow and chief technologist, in Fishkill, N.Y. "Is the gap growing between the performance of processors and other computer components? Yes."
Nevertheless, Intel last week announced that it had produced transistors that are about 30 nanometers across, or about the width of a single strand of DNA. Smaller transistors tend to work faster than larger ones. By decreasing their size, manufacturers can pack more of them onto a single die, creating more powerful processors.
Today, Intels fastest 1.5GHz Pentium 4 features 42 million transistors. Using its new technology, the company expects to pack as many as 400 million transistors onto a single die, resulting in an approximate tenfold increase in performance. Intel expects to be able to produce microprocessors with speeds approaching 10GHz in 2005.
IBM announced new materials added to chips to boost performance. Early next year, it will begin selling microprocessors that will, for the first time, combine copper wiring, silicon-on-insulator technology and an insulating material called SiLK, known as a low-k dielectric. IBMs design is known as CMOS 9S.