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This microprocessor cross section shows vacuums in between the chip's wiring that serve as insulators between each wire
IBM chip production takes cue from snowflakes, seashells and from your teeth

IBM is taking a cue from nature to build the next generation of computer chips. IBM borrowed the natural pattern-creating process that forms seashells, snowflakes and tooth enamel to help create next-generation chips. The method forms trillions of holes to create vacuums as insulation around the miles of nano-scale wires packed next to each other inside the chip.

Today, chips are manufactured with copper wiring surrounded by an insulator, which involves using a mask to create circuit patterns by beaming light through the mask and later chemically removing the parts that are not needed.

The new technique skips the masking and light-etching process, opting to use a vacuum gap – misleadingly referred to as airgaps – as an insulator. IBM scientists discovered the right mix of compounds, which they poured onto a silicon wafer with the wired chip patterns, and then baked.

This concept occurs in nature for the formation of snowflakes, seashells and tooth enamel. The major difference is that IBM has been able to direct the self-assembly process to form trillions of holes that are all similar, while the processes that occur in nature are all unique.

This process provides the right environment for the compounds to assemble in a directed manner, creating trillions of uniform, nano-scale holes across an entire 300 millimeter wafer. These holes are just 20 nanometers in diameter, up to five times smaller than would be possible using today’s most advanced lithography technique.

Once the holes are formed, the carbon silicate glass is removed, creating a vacuum between the wires allowing the electrical signals to either flow 35 percent faster, or to consume 15 percent less energy. A vacuum is believed to be the ultimate insulator for what is known as wiring capacitance, which occurs when two conductors, in this case adjacent wires on a chip, sap or siphon electrical energy from one another, generating undesirable heat and slowing the speed at which data can move through a chip.

 “This is the first time anyone has proven the ability to synthesize mass quantities of these self-assembled polymers and integrate them into an existing manufacturing process with great yield results,” said Dan Edelstein, chief scientist of the self-assembly airgap project. “By moving self assembly from the lab to the fab, we are able to make chips that are smaller, faster and consume less power than existing materials and design architectures allow.”

IBM boasts that its self-assembly nanotechnology process provide the equivalent of two generations of Moore's Law wiring performance improvements in a single step. The self-assembly process already has been integrated with IBM manufacturing line in East Fishkill, New York and is expected to be fully incorporated in IBM’s manufacturing lines and used in chips in 2009. Furthermore, this new technology can be incorporated into any standard CMOS manufacturing line, without disruption or new tooling.

The chips will be used in IBM's server product lines and thereafter for chips IBM builds for other companies, for example, the Cell Broadband Engine found in the PlayStation 3 and various servers.

Over the past few months, IBM has had a number of major chip technology announcements and demonstrations that the company claims will extend Moore’s Law. In December, IBM announced the first 45nm chips using immersion lithography and ultra-low-K interconnect dielectrics.

In January, IBM announced high-k metal gate, which substitutes a new material into a critical portion of the transistor that controls its primary on/off switching function. In February, IBM revealed its on-chip memory technology that features the fastest access times ever recorded in eDRAM. Then in March, IBM unveiled a prototype optical transceiver chipset capable of reaching speeds at least eight-times faster than optical components available today. More recently, IBM developed a new chip stacking technology that shortens wire lengths inside chips up to 1000 times.

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By Mitch101 on 5/4/2007 11:02:23 AM , Rating: 1
If I recall no 2 snowflakes are ever the same.


I dont know what or who changed at IBM but it looks like someone knows how to get around their previously poor production policies and making them a reality now. Kudos to IBM for bringing their innovations into reality.

2009 is going to be an interesting year for partners of IBM. Cough Cough AMD.

RE: Mitch101
By Anosh on 5/4/2007 11:11:26 AM , Rating: 2
This concept occurs in nature for the formation of snowflakes, seashells and tooth enamel. The major difference is that IBM has been able to direct the self-assembly process to form trillions of holes that are all similar , while the processes that occur in nature are all unique .

IBM's holes are all similar unlike nature.

RE: Mitch101
By mars777 on 5/4/07, Rating: 0
RE: Mitch101
By Vanilla Thunder on 5/4/2007 11:31:42 AM , Rating: 5
All this talk of AMD "disappearing" makes me laugh. Just because a company no longer wears the performance crown doesn't mean it's over. As stated here many times, enthusiasts make up such a small percentage of actual users. Your average customer cares if their computer runs smooth and fast. As long as AMD can provide price competitive chips that perform, I don't think they have anything to worry about in the short term. I won't even discuss the upcoming K10 chips. Without actual benchmarking, it's all speculation anyway. Let's wait and see.


RE: Mitch101
By ADDAvenger on 5/4/2007 12:03:03 PM , Rating: 5
I think Barcelona will really help AMD recover some of their losses (ie stop bleeding market share and profits), at least until Intel releases Penryn.

Anyway, I know AMD won't disappear. I just don't want to see them reduced to something like VIA that makes really cheap crap for something like 5% of the market with no hope of challenging Intel in the near future. Intel is once again making really good chips, but I bet they'll start getting slack in a generation or two unless AMD can keep them pressured.

RE: Mitch101
By TheDoc9 on 5/4/2007 11:17:42 AM , Rating: 2
what's really impressive is how they've already incorporated this tech into current production and that it really is happening right now. This isn't theory, it's history. Incredible.

RE: Mitch101
By Mitch101 on 5/4/2007 11:29:00 AM , Rating: 2
You aint kidding. For ages I would hear how IBM did this and IBM did that and for years nothing ever seemed to come from it.

It seems like a new IBM has surfaced in the last year. What happened? Did the Scientists in the R&D section finally get management to sign off and approve changes?

RE: Mitch101
By LogicallyGenius on 5/5/2007 12:58:57 AM , Rating: 2
sounds like they gave their employees a genetic mental upgrade

RE: Mitch101
By General Disturbance on 5/4/2007 12:22:20 PM , Rating: 2
IBM > Nature

That made me the good way :)

Nature = IBM's bi**h

RE: Mitch101
By Urbanos on 5/4/2007 3:53:57 PM , Rating: 2
give it up for IBM
most of the time i'd expect one company to bring these types of innovations perhaps once or twice a year, not so many breakthroughs already, and we are only 1st quarter 2007!!
unbelievably amazing.

We have sped past the Moore's Law?
By AnnihilatorX on 5/4/2007 9:10:43 AM , Rating: 2
IBM boasts that its self-assembly nanotechnology process provide the equivalent of two generations of Moore's Law wiring performance improvements in a single step.

2 Generations of Moore's Law in a single improvement is amzing indeed

RE: We have sped past the Moore's Law?
By Anosh on 5/4/2007 11:08:53 AM , Rating: 2
Moore's Law isn't only about doubling transistor amount as many people seem to think. It also takes into account several other factors that almost always are ignored when referenced to by the media.

RE: We have sped past the Moore's Law?
By Anosh on 5/4/2007 11:12:43 AM , Rating: 2
If you'd like to read about it go here:

By dragonlordkain on 5/4/2007 2:21:57 PM , Rating: 2
dude... they are rocking...
we hear intel doing this, that...
but IBM... Wow.

AMD must be very happy now..
if they get IBM's help, they might catch Intel in the scale race...

By Lazarus Dark on 5/4/2007 6:10:31 AM , Rating: 3
It definately seems IBM has been busy this year with extraordinary breakthroughs. Not bad for a hundred+ year old company. I would guess they might be around quite a bit longer. If I had money, I might look at getting some stock.

With all the success of making chips smaller and smaller and reducing the power consumtion/heat loss, I think umpcs/ultra small laptops will really start to take some market share in three or four years. I'm thinking handheld gaming in four years will just be gaming on full speed, full function handheld pc's.

RE: Busy
By defter on 5/4/2007 8:20:26 AM , Rating: 2
Before you buy stock basen on these kind of news you must realize that microelectronics unit that makes chips is a very small unit in IBM.

Majority of IBM's revenue come from software&services division. Majority of hardware division revenue comes from selling servers.

RE: Busy
By Anosh on 5/4/2007 10:56:34 AM , Rating: 2
I might add that all those things were not started and created with in one year as you seem to think... this is the result of many years research and experimenting where many many projects fail.

By Crazyeyeskillah on 5/4/2007 6:08:26 PM , Rating: 2
Most people are not in touch with the rediculous depth of innovation that IBM's R+D is worth. Millions of patents, breakthroughs, and inventions are merely side effects of their business. Since most products they design/produce are contracts in the hundreds of millions, the public rarely gets a glimpse into the true nature of IBM. In many instances, companies will come to IBM with a request, IBM will create a time table, create a contract, and then have 1-2 years to invent and produce technology that does not exist. Their sheer success at this business practice is a testament to the genious and ability of IBM engineers. Kudos to IBM.

By bldckstark on 5/4/2007 7:45:59 PM , Rating: 3
Most people don't know how to spell ridiculous either.

By Crazyeyeskillah on 5/4/2007 8:09:30 PM , Rating: 2
hence why i'm not employed by ibm ;)

Busy IBM, more like BS from IBM.
By ChipDude on 5/4/2007 8:39:28 PM , Rating: 2
It burns me up that the press and idiot tech wanna pretenders think there is something here.

Talk about a company so desperate to return to glory. IBM microelectronics is now a small and irrelevant piece of IBMs business. But once they were king, inventor of the DRAM, leader of scaling, leader in BJT performance, publisher of great breakthrus like STI, copper. Today they trail INTEL across the board and have resorted to constortiums to pay the bills in East Fishkill so they can pretend to be in a busines that IBM no longer leads or needs. When the world went to CMOS and IBM choose to not to do x86 IBM lost the core competence and need to be a silicon leader. Today IBM is no better at silicon then TSMC. They put a little more into performance because of PowerPC but servers sales/profts depend less on silicon then everbefore.

IBM only needs to look to the west and HP to see how it should get done. HP used to do silicon but disolved all of that years ago. And this past quarter HP leaped IBM. IBM and their white shirted CEO Sam should get out of the old blue and get with it. Silicon isn’t what is going to save or grow IBM.

Lets look more closely at some recent IBM silicon innovations or annoucments. More like lets look at some of their recent failures; SILK, bi-axial strain, HighK and now this. They are stretching to try to make the press after INTEL beat them to HighK. Lets be clear, IBM annouched HighK in a hasty response to INTEL. INTEL had demonststrated HighK in 2006 on fully functional test chips. They were very secretive then about telling the world. THen a year later they annouced it as they had committed factories and their whole future to it. IBM is annoucing nothing but a experimental result that might appear in 2009. ITs all BS that you guys are debating.

Some notable things. They talk about implemented yet it won’t appear in chips till 2009. That means it’s a 32nm technology and 32nm is still in its infancy. I’d be shocked of all the elements of 32nm are already defined and to say its for sure is another SILK like situation. Promise something only to discover it don’t work and you can’t back out and you stick it on your production only to screw your customers. You can’t figure out what will be on 32nm yet as you need to run test chips and debug and throw out things as well as invet new things. I’d believe it if it was going into 45nm next year or 65nm this year. Sorry anything revoluationary 2 years before production is suspect. Its all press noise. I'm sure even in 2006 when INTLE had their first working chip they weren't sure it was going to work.

Its also BS that they don’t use masks and chemicals.
Another BS line to impress the cluess readeers and press. They still need to pattern the metal lines and interconnects. Those don’t get hooked up by “nature.” How the hell do you form the interconnnects. Interconnects are conscious patterns drawn in a very non random and un-nature pattern. Sorry Nature doesn't pattern the interconnects. ANyone who buys that BS is a idiot!

Air/vacum gap are the holy grail for interconnects as they reduce capacitance to the theoritical limit. Kind of like HighK metal gates for the FE. Since IBM couldn’t beat INTEL there they conjured a press release for the backend. But like their Copper annoucment of a decade ago it won’t amount to much competitive product advantage for IBM nor its partner AMD.

Like silk this will type of dielectric will fall apart in the package and dice processing of the chips. In the end they will get some of this working but it won't look at all like this in 2009 I'm certain.

For another good opinion on this one go here:

RE: Busy IBM, more like BS from IBM.
By Crazyeyeskillah on 5/4/2007 10:55:43 PM , Rating: 2
IBM has been doing 45nm for well over 2 years

By ChipDude on 5/5/2007 12:30:04 AM , Rating: 1
There is 45nm and there is 45nm. I don't count papers about single transistors. IBM has been behind INTEL since 90nm in every important benchmark; performance, volume, functional SRAM or product

AMD part of this research effort?
By Amiga500 on 5/4/2007 4:56:36 AM , Rating: 2
I believe AMD colloberated with IBM in the past in R&D - is this the case here?

Anyway, regardless, its always good to see the boundaries pushed ever further. :-)

By Dactyl on 5/5/2007 3:03:11 AM , Rating: 2
If AMD and IBM got in a fight with Intel, Intel would be collobored.

10 Chip Breakthroughs
By crystal clear on 5/7/2007 5:42:42 AM , Rating: 2
Over the past few months, IBM has had a number of major chip technology announcements and demonstrations that the company claims will extend Moore’s Law.

Made in IBM Labs: 10 Chip Breakthroughs in 10 Years

Since then, IBM scientists have continued to drive performance improvements to continue the path of Moore’s Law. Ten of IBM’s biggest chip breakthroughs chosen from the dozens of innovations coming from IBM’s labs in the past ten years include:

RE: 10 Chip Breakthroughs
By ChipDude on 5/7/2007 10:21:25 AM , Rating: 2
Yawn, and how much revenue did these 10 great breakthrus make?

Research is good, breakthru that result in a competitive advantage is the only thing that matters.

None of these resulted in what made any recent IBM product stand out.

SiGe HBT is the only technology that directly resulted in IBM producing a product that was a competitive advantage.

Cu, Strain, SOI, immersion, airgap are all press release and about penis envy

By S3anister on 5/6/2007 11:11:58 PM , Rating: 2

seriously, has anyone ever thought that IBM might buyout AMD?

it's completely possible and if you really think about it... it makes sense.

God that would make IBM huge[er].

By crystal clear on 5/6/2007 1:45:05 AM , Rating: 1
IBM CEO Palmisano: Client-Server Computing Is Dead

Palmisano said businesses need to migrate to more efficient computing models where applications are stored centrally and can be tapped from a broad range of computing devices.

His sale of his company's storied personal computer division may be the strongest indication that Sam Palmisano believes the PC's status as a business computing tool is in decline. But if there were lingering doubts about his views on the subject, the IBM CEO put those to rest Tuesday.
"The PC client-server model has run its course," proclaimed Palmisano, speaking in St. Louis at PartnerWorld, IBM's annual gathering of software developers and technology resellers.

As an alternate to the classic IT setup in which workers use applications stored locally on PCs while expensive servers are reduced to the role of traffic cop, Palmisano said IBM wants "to offer a new architecture for data centers."

Specifically, Palmisano said businesses need to migrate to more efficient computing models where applications -- or even components of applications -- are stored centrally and can be tapped from a broad range of computing devices beyond the PC.

Creating these so-called software as a service (SaaS) environments and service-oriented architectures will allow businesses to escape the economic waste that has plagued traditional client-server architectures, Palmisano said. "Twenty percent [server] utilization rates are unacceptable," said Palmisano.

Centralized application architectures also are essential if businesses are to cope with the fact that "millions of people now use billions of devices" to access data from cell phones, handheld computers, and other emerging platforms, he said.

Given Palmisano's vision, it's no coincidence that IBM has invested heavily to develop or acquire technologies and services that play to these new computing models. The company last week, for instance, launched a new service designed to help U.S. federal agencies build SOA environments.

In November, IBM acquired Palisades Technology Partners, a company that offers an online software platform that lending institutions can access to manage the loan process from point of sale through closing. "We have bought 50 or 60 companies and we might buy another 50 or 60 companies" that will help IBM create such offerings, Palmisano said.

Palmisano also has been divesting assets that don't fit his view of the IT landscape. The sale of the company's PC business in 2005 to China's Lenovo Group for $1.25 billion was one of the "bold bets" that IBM has made in recent years to position itself for the future.

Similarly, IBM in January announced a $725 million deal to sell its lackluster printer business to Ricoh.

IBM's view of business computing's future contrasts markedly with that held by arch rival Microsoft. With its recent release of the Windows Vista operating system -- complete with a desktop footprint that significantly exceeds that of Windows XP -- and new, feature-packed Office applications, Microsoft has signaled its belief that the PC will play a central role in business computing for years to come.

For the time being, however, most analysts believe that businesses will adopt a mixed approach under which workers will continue to use PC-based applications even as they increasingly turn to online software and data for some tasks.

"It looks like the iPhone 4 might be their Vista, and I'm okay with that." -- Microsoft COO Kevin Turner

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