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AMD revs up transistor designs

Researchers at Advanced Micro Devices report significant new design techniques that the company says will lead--eventually--to higher chip performance.

Advanced Micro Devices has brewed two new advanced transistor designs that it says will lead to higher chip performance.

The chipmaker's researchers have created and demonstrated a new Fully Depleted Silicon-on-Insulator transistor, the company said Wednesday. The silicon-on-insulator design technique uses special materials to better isolate transistors inside a chip, with the aim of increasing performance and reducing power consumption.

AMD's twist on the transistor design is as much as 30 percent faster than some of the best published results seen so far, the company said.

The Sunnyvale, Calif.-based company has also demonstrated a new strained silicon transistor based on a metal-gate design. That technology has shown 20 percent to 25 percent better performance than conventional strained-silicon transistors, AMD said.

But the new transistor designs, which are still in the research and testing stages, won't be incorporated into chips that will be available anytime soon. They are expected to play a role in AMD's chip manufacturing in the second half of this decade, the company said.

Transistors--the tiny on-and-off switches that channel electrical signals--are the building blocks of the microprocessors that run desktop PCs, notebooks, handheld devices, computer networks and other electronics gear.

Transistors use silicon dioxide gates, diminutive structures that are part of the equipment responsible for controlling the flow of electrons inside chips. Though AMD did not reveal which metal it tested, researchers have discussed using aluminum, nickel and titanium.

The developments come as companies such as AMD search for ways to continue to boost the performance of their processors.

Typically, to increase the performance of new processors, manufacturers pack larger numbers of smaller transistors into new chips, in accord with Moore's Law. But as the transistors shrink and then inhabit ever closer quarters, chipmakers face problems with electrical leakage and interference, which can lead to excessive power consumption or problems with operation.

With no significant change to techniques, those problems could bring performance improvements to a halt two or three chip generations down the road. But researchers at companies such as AMD, Intel and IBM are working with new materials and creating new multiple-gate transistor designs intended to overcome potential roadblocks.

AMD's two transistor designs, which the company plans to detail at the VLSI Symposium in Kyoto, Japan, in June, are key developments in the company's race to produce higher-performance processors for the PC industry.

"By staying at the forefront of research on transistors that operate with higher performance, less current leakage and lower-voltage requirements, we are providing AMD design teams with the building blocks they need to create the solutions customers want," Craig Sander, vice president of process technology development at AMD, said in a statement.