IBM and Hitachi team up on chip research

IBM and Hitachi are set to announce a research agreement to collaborate to improve semiconductor technology, including shrinking the features on silicon chips.

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IBM and Hitachi are set to announce a research agreement to collaborate to improve semiconductor technology, including shrinking the features on silicon chips.

Researchers from the companies will try to accelerate the miniaturisation of chip circuitry by researching at the atomic level for 32-nanometre and 22-nm semiconductors. Making chip circuits smaller should allow computing devices to deliver power savings and performance gains. It will also make manufacturing more efficient, IBM said.

By combining research capabilities and intellectual property, the companies also hope to reduce the costs of developing advanced chip technologies.

Its tie-up with Hitachi is not linked to the cell processor, which is the result of a separate development partnership between IBM, Sony and Toshiba, IBM said. Though IBM and Hitachi work together on enterprise servers and other products, this is the first time they are collaborating on semiconductor technology.

Though the research, to be done in New York, does not apply directly to manufacturing, it could contribute to IBM's manufacturing processes as they relate to future silicon devices, IBM said. It declined to say when products would hit the market.

Chip makers such as IBM, Intel and Advanced Micro Devices (AMD) are constantly upgrading their manufacturing technologies to shrink chips. Intel already manufactures 45-nm chips and AMD has plans for a similar move later this year. Intel recently said it hoped to shrink the features on its chips to 22-nm by 2011.

As chip makers build smaller and smaller transistors, they are dealing with features that are in some cases just a few atoms thick. A nanometre is equal to about one billionth of a metre. In chip manufacturing, the figure refers to the smallest features etched onto the surface of the chips.

IBM already has a strong profile in advancing semiconductor technology. It is developing silicon nanophotonics technology, which could replace some of the wires on a chip with pulses of light on tiny optical fibres for quicker and more power-efficient data transfers between cores on a chip. It is also working with US universities to develop carbon nanotubes, smaller transistors that could deliver better performance than current transistors.