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IBM hits a chip milestone

Big Blue says its semiconductor division has shipped 100 million chips made with silicon germanium technology, which powers the processors that go into many wireless devices.

IBM's semiconductor division reached a milestone recently when it shipped its 100 millionth chip made with silicon germanium technology.

Silicon germanium, or SiGe, technology can boost performance and reduce the power consumption of chips that go into cellular phones and other wireless devices.

The 100 millionth SiGe chip was manufactured at IBM's Burlington, Vt., plant and shipped to Tektronix, which builds test equipment for semiconductor products. IBM launched its first SiGe chips in 1998.

So far, the chips have been used mainly in cellular phones, wireless local-area networks, optical networking applications, and semiconductor test and measurement equipment, according to IBM.

"We're translating SiGe's benefits into real customer applications," Bernard Meyerson, chief technologist at IBM's Technology Group, said in a statement. "With multiple SiGe technologies, a full suite of design tools and our state-of-the-art manufacturing facility, we have the resources to help anticipate and meet our customers' requirements."

The Burlington plant has been the subject of rumors regarding a possible sale, stemming from expectations that IBM plans to cut jobs or spin off certain businesses. However, the plant is the only IBM facility manufacturing SiGe chips, making it an important piece of the company's semiconductor portfolio.

IBM's SiGe manufacturing process embeds germanium atoms inside the silicon crystal that forms the base of a chip. The addition of germanium makes the silicon substrate a better conductor of electricity, allowing IBM to increase clock speeds or to reduce power consumption at a given speed. The company can tailor SiGe chips for different applications, which may require lower power or higher performance.

The technology has also shown that it has plenty of "headroom," the chip industry's term for its ability to increase performance. In its labs, IBM recently produced circuits running as fast as 110GHz using SiGe technology.

IBM Semiconductor ships millions of chips per year into markets ranging from Apple Computer's personal computers to cellular phones and networking equipment.