IBM, Partners Preparing 32-nm Chips

The chip makers believe their design offers better performance and less power consumption than the current crop of 45-nm processors.

IBM and a group of six other technology companies are inching closer to developing 32-nanometer microprocessors for the commercial market that will use a high-k metal gate technology to reduce power consumption while increasing performance.

Big Blue is leading the effort to develop 32-nm chips, along with Charted Semiconductor, Freescale, Infineon Technologies, Samsung, STMicroelectronics and Toshiba. This alliance was designed to create chips that use standard, bulk CMOS (complementary metal oxide semiconductor) technology.

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While IBM and its partners have not announced a specific date for when these chips will enter the commercial market, they indicated on April 14 that they are ready to start sharing the designs with other partners to begin developing new products.

In December, IBM announced that its engineers, along with help from other partners that are developing different layered silicon on insulator technologies, had developed high-k metal gate technology for 32-nm processors-a nanometer is one billionth of a meter-which should reduce power leaking from the chips' transistors while increasing overall performance.

The 32-nm CMOS chips should offer a 35 percent increase in performance compared with 45-nm processors, and can reduce power consumption by as much as 50 percent compared with 45-nm chips working within the same thermal envelope.

For now, IBM and its partners are developing the chip within Big Blue's 300-millimeter facility at East Fishkill, N.Y. The partnership also plans to use the high-k metal gate technology within new lines of chips manufactured at 28 and 22 nanometers.

IBM and its various partners say this new generation of chips can serve a wide range of purposes, from high-performance computing to cell phones and PDAs.

Although IBM and its partners have announced that they are using high-k metal gate technology within these new 32-nm processors, they have not indicated the specific material they are using in the chips. When Intel announced its line of 45-nm processors in November, the chip marker said it would use the element Hafnium as part of the metal gate technology, which helps reduce power leaking from the transistors when they sit idle.

Intel plans to move its manufacturing to 32-nm chips later in 2009, after it first debuts a new line of chips-Nehalem-that will use new microarchitecture.