IBM boasts breakthroughs in semiconductor technology

It's been a busy week for the industrious engineers at computing giant IBM, as the company announces breakthroughs in the fields of racetrack memory, CMOS-compatible graphene devices and sub-10nm transistors.

Designed to prove the commercial viability of its lab-based research projects, IBM's announcements at the IEEE International Electron Devices Meeting earlier this week show the key technological advances that the company hopes will help keep Moore's Law - named for Gordon Moore, Intel co-founder, who observed that achievable chip complexity doubles roughly every two years - ticking over.

"Throughout its history, IBM’s continued investment in scientific research to identify new materials and processes has not only extended current technologies but is providing a sustainable technology foundation for tomorrow," claimed IBM Research vice president of science and technology T. C. Chen. "Today's breakthroughs challenge the status quo by exploring the boundaries of science and transforming that knowledge into information technology systems that could advance the power and capability of businesses worldwide."

First, the racetrack memory: designed to create a 'universal memory' which combines the best of both traditional DRAM and solid-state or magnetic hard drives - it's an unproven but promising new technology. Following seven years of research, IBM has successfully created a racetrack memory device using CMOS - complimentary metal-oxide semiconductor - production techniques on a 200mm silicon wafer.

The test chips, while very much at the prototype stage, passed both read and write tests in a 256-layer in-plane magnetised form, laying the fundamental foundations for future, more densely packed racetrack memory devices and proving the overall validity of the concept.

The second breakthrough lies in a graphene-based frequency multiplier, again constructed using CMOS-compatible production techniques, capable of running at 5GHz and under environmental conditions with temperatures as high as 200°C. The real breakthrough, however, is in the manufacturing process: a new embedded gate structure has been developed to enable high yields of graphene integrated circuits from a standard 200mm wafer.

Finally, IBM has announced the first transistor based on a sub-10nm process and produced using carbon nanotube technology. With silicon expected to struggle as manufacturers drop into the single-digit nanometre process sizes, IBM is hoping that its carbon nanotube technology will act as a potential replacement.