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IBM cranks up semiconductor circuit speed

IBM claims it has developed the world's fastest semiconductor circuit.

Using a new variant of silicon germanium (SiGe) technology called SiGe 8HP, IBM built and tested a range of circuits, including a high-speed networking circuit for use in optical networking.

"Ring oscillators, although not typically used in products, are an ideal way to gauge the technology," said IBM spokesman Greg Freeman.

The SiGe technology will be used in optical-networking circuits to increase network speeds, "giving up to 100Gbits per second," said Freeman.

The first chips using the SiGe 8HP technology are expected to be available later this year, IBM said. These will be developed by IBM itself and by partners, and will be used in telecommunication applications such as driving lasers in optical networks, Freeman said

IBM pioneered SiGe technology in 1989. It involves combining germanium with the silicon base in a microchip to improve the conductivity of the base. Unlike chips using other high-speed materials, SiGe transistors can be manufactured using standard CMOS processes. This means that manufacturers can change their production to high-speed chips without expensive new equipment.

SiGe also shows lower power consumption than alternative materials, IBM said.

Other SiGe variants, called SiGe 5PA and SoGe 5DM, are being developed for the wireless communications market, IBM said.

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