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IBM to get high-k with all its friends at 32nm

Hafnium forever!

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IBM and Intel love their nanometer wars. One week IBM is straining something first in order to make faster, smaller chips, and the next week Intel has found some forgotten element and placed it at the center of a revolutionary effort. You won't find Big Boys getting excited about shrinkage very often in the real word, but in the chip game, that's how things are done.

This week IBM has tried to one-up Intel through openness. IBM is claiming a level of mastery around 32nm chips that rely on high-k metal gate technology. And IBM has announced plans to share that technology with all its chip friends, including foundry, memory and fabless companies.

Just to bring everyone up to speed, let's look at the 45nm situation.

Intel last month started cranking out processors made on a 45nm process that use the high-k metal gate technology. This makes Intel the first major chipmaker to replace the silicon used to insulate transistor gates with hafnium and a pair of still undisclosed metals. As a result, Intel can produce smaller, more energy-efficient products.

IBM won't start pumping out the hafnium-based parts until next year when its 45nm manufacturing process takes hold. At that point, only IBM and partner AMD will be able to take advantage.

Come 32nm, everything changes.

“Basically, everyone will have access to it,” IBM chip researcher Gary Patton told us.

IBM has a number of processor partnerships in place that cover shared manufacturing efforts as well as IBM serving as a chip producer for smaller companies. And now all of these folks can piggyback on IBM's hard work.

Patton reckons that IBM has firmed up the 32nm high-k technology for both low power chips that will go into mobile devices and for higher performing chips that will slot into servers.

Like Intel, IBM refuses to disclose what metals it uses in conjunction with hafnium to create these new chips. In addition, IBM declines to elaborate on the changes made when moving from 45nm to 32nm. ®

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