IBM, Samsung, others team up on Gnext chips

IBM, Samsung Electronics, STMicroelectronics, and others are teaming up on the development of next-generation chip technology for small, low-power devices with one wary eye on Intel, which is expediting its move to chips with smaller geometries.
IBM and its semiconductor technology alliance partners are announcing the availability of 28-nanometer (nm) chip technology, a little more than a generation beyond the 45nm technologies currently used by Intel and Advanced Micro Devices in their latest chips.

The first products using chips based on this technology are expected in the second half of 2010, an IBM spokesman said. Devices will include smartphones and consumer electronics products.

The largest, single countervailing force to the IBM-led group is Intel. The Santa Clara, Calif.-based chip giant’s chief executive, Paul Otellini, said Tuesday in a first-quarter earnings conference call that Intel is “pulling in” the release of “Westmere” chips based on 32nm technology and will ship silicon later this year.

Generally, the smaller the geometry, the faster and more power efficient the chip is.

The IBM alliance–which also includes the AMD manufacturing spin-off Globalfoundries, Chartered Semiconductor, and Infineon Technologies–are jointly developing the 28nm chipmaking process based on the partners’ “high-k metal gate” (which minimizes current leakage), low-power complementary metal oxide semiconductor (CMOS) process technology.
The technology “can provide a 40 percent performance improvement and a more than 20 percent reduction in power, in a chip that is half the size, compared with 45nm technology,” IBM said in a statement. “These improvements enable microchip designs with outstanding performance, smaller feature sizes and low standby power, contributing to faster processing speed and longer battery life in next-generation mobile Internet devices and other systems.”

IBM said customers can begin their designs now using 32nm technology and then transition to 28nm for density and power advantages without the need for a major redesign.

One prominent customer is U.K.-based ARM, whose basic chip design has been used in billions of devices all over the world. ARM is collaborating with the IBM alliance to develop a design platform for 32nm and 28nm technology and is tuning its Cortex processor family and future processors to exploit the technology’s capabilities, IBM said.

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