Tuesday, 27 February 2007 10:42

Supercomputer speeds understanding of new chip material

By
Computer simulations developed by IBM's Zurich Research Laboratory have cast light on the proposed use of hafnium dioxide in computer chips - a development that is expected to help increase chip density and performance.

The scientists modelled the behaviour of hafnium silicates (which form at the boundary between silicon and hafnium dioxide) at the molecular level, and even though each model represented no more than 600 atoms, it took "only five days of computing time" on the company's Blue Gene/L 4096-processor supercomputer.

To give an indication of Blue Gene's processing power, it would take the most powerful laptop computer 700 years to carry out the 200 billion billion calculations needed for the 50 different models developed by the researchers.

IBM expects hafnium dioxide technology to reach products in 2008. While experiments with the material have been very promising, a thorough understanding of its nature will reduce the risk that it will have unforeseen consequences.

Both IBM and Intel have announced they will use hafnium-based dielectrics in their 45nm chips. Intel is expected to beat IBM to the punch, beginning commercial production at the end of this year.

Hafnium dioxide is one of the 'high-k' materials that can be used in thinner dielectric layers than the traditional silicon dioxide without allowing excessive current leakage and consequent heat generation.

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Stephen Withers

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Stephen Withers is one of Australia¹s most experienced IT journalists, having begun his career in the days of 8-bit 'microcomputers'. He covers the gamut from gadgets to enterprise systems. In previous lives he has been an academic, a systems programmer, an IT support manager, and an online services manager. Stephen holds an honours degree in Management Sciences and a PhD in Industrial and Business Studies.

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