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Cooler, Cheaper Chips
Dec 2007
CLEMSON, S.C., Dec. 4, 2007 -- A new process and equipment will reportedly lead to a significant reduction of heat generated by silicon chips or microprocessors while speeding up the rate at which information is sent, said Rajendra Singh, PhD, an electrical and computer engineering professor and the director of the Center for Silicon Nanoelectronics at Clemson University, in Clemson, S.C.

The development could result in faster and more cost-effective laptops, desk computers, cell phones and other semiconductor devices, said Singh, who heads the research team for the project.

The heart of many high-tech devices is the microprocessor that performs the logic functions. These devices produce heat depending on the speed at which the microprocessor operates; faster microprocessors generate more heat than slower ones. At present, dual-core or quad-core microprocessors are packaged as a single product in laptops so that heat is reduced without compromising overall speed of the computing system. Singh said writing software for these multicore processors, along with making them profitable, remains a challenge.

"Our new process and equipment improve the performance of the materials produced, resulting in less power lost through leakage," Singh said. "Based on our work, microprocessors can operate faster and cooler.

"In the future," he said, "it will be possible to use a smaller number of microprocessors in a single chip, since we've increased the speed of the individual microprocessors. At the same time, we've reduced power loss six-fold to a level never seen before. Heat loss and, therefore, lost power has been a major obstacle in the past."

The research team included Aarthi Venkateshan, Kelvin F. Poole, James Harriss, Herman Senter, Robert Teague, all of Clemson, and J. Narayan of North Carolina State University at Raleigh. Results were published in a recent issue of Electronics Letters (Oct. 11, 2007, vol. 43, issue 21, pp 1130-1131). The work reported here is covered by a patent of Singh's and Poole's issued to Clemson University in 2003.

The researchers say the patented technique has the potential to improve the performance and lower the cost of next-generation computer chips and a number of semiconductor devices, which include green energy conversion devices such as solar cells.

"The potential of this new process and equipment is the low cost of manufacturing, along with better performance, reliability and yield," Singh said. "The semiconductor industry is currently debating whether to change from smaller (300-mm wafer) manufacturing tools to larger ones that provide more chips (450 mm)."

He added, "Cost is the barrier to change right now. This invention potentially will enable a reduction of many processing steps and will result in a reduction in overall costs."

The team said the development has the potential to create new jobs in South Carolina's growing semiconductor-related industry and the semiconductor equipment manufacturing industry as a whole.

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The technology of generating and harnessing light and other forms of radiant energy whose quantum unit is the photon. The science includes light emission, transmission, deflection, amplification and detection by optical components and instruments, lasers and other light sources, fiber optics, electro-optical instrumentation, related hardware and electronics, and sophisticated systems. The range of applications of photonics extends from energy generation to detection to communications and...
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