IBM Finds More Performance And Less Power In 32 Nm Chips

East Fishkill (NY) - A chip alliance led by IBM expects semiconductors to bring a substantial boost in performance and a reduction in power consumption with the arrival of the 32 nm chip generation. The secret? High-K Metal Gate, a transistor technology that replaces polysilicon gate with a metal gate and the silicon-dioxide gate dielectric with a high-k dielectric.

IBM said that High-K will deliver up to 35% more performance or up to 45% less power (depending on operating voltage) over a 45 nm chip generation without High-K dielectric. Of course, these "up to" numbers are "either or" scenarios: 35% more performance will not yield 45% less power consumption: Actual mass-production chips are likely to show a compromise between more performance and less power.

IBM said that High-K Metal Gate (HKMG) has been integrated into the 32 nm production process at its 300 mm semiconductor fabrication facility in East Fishkill, New York. With first silicon on hand, the company and its partners Chartered, Freescale, Infineon, Samsung, STMicroelectronics and Toshiba said they are now ready "for early customer engagements" - which means that clients "may now design in this leading edge, low power foundry technology in order to help speed time-to-market and help realize power-performance advantage for their products."

IBM said that silicon support for low-power 32 nm HKMG technology will be available through a prototyping shuttle program starting in the third quarter of this year. According to the company, initial test results indicate that its 32 nm process can be extended to 22 nm. Of course, by the third quarter of this year, Intel will have HKMG chips in mass production for about a year. The company is expected to introduce 32 nm processors in late 2009 - and show 22 nm SRAM chips in early 2009.

Eagle-eyed readers may notice that AMD is not part of this announcement, despite the fact that the two companies are cooperating in chip manufacturing and the fact that AMD has been part of similar announcements in the past. Suspicious minds would speculate that AMD may have been excluded from this development, but IBM assured us that today’s announcement actually refers to IBM’s foundry alliance, which does not include AMD. However, AMD is part of IBM’s high performance SOI alliance, which includes AMD.

So, this announcement does refer to SOI microprocessors, but covers other applications such as cellphone processors instead, we were told.