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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 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.

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