Feeds

New transistor tech could beat silicon and save Moore's Law

Indium gallium arsenide tapped for smaller, faster chips

Top three mobile application threats

IEDM Boffins at MIT's Microsystems Technology Laboratories have developed the world's smallest transistor made of indium gallium arsenide, a substance they say could replace silicon as the go-to material for building tomorrow's ultra-fast, ultra-small microchips.

The tiny transistor is just 22nm in length, according to a report by MIT's in-house news agency, but it offers good logic performance.

That may not sound so impressive on first take, considering that Intel already uses a 22nm process to fabricate its newest-generation Core processors, with 14nm on the way.

But etching transistors much smaller than that using today's silicon-wafer processes will be tricky, because the smaller the transistors get, more difficult it is for them to handle current efficiently. Researchers believe we are fast approaching a "brick wall," after which point shrinking silicon transistors any further will be infeasible.

It should come as no surprise, then, that chip boffins have been searching high and low for practical alternatives to silicon. Graphene, gallium nitride, molybdenite, even carbon nanotubes – they're trying everything.

Indium gallium arsenide has long been a promising candidate, however, because its ability to conduct electrons is superior to silicon's at the nanometer scale – about five times better, in fact.

The material is already widely used in fiber-optic applications and in radar systems. The trick, however, has been figuring out how to create transistors with it that are small enough to be usable in microprocessors.

Jesús del Alamo and his team at MIT's Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science think they have found that method.

First, they used molecular beam epitaxy (MBE) to grow a thin layer of indium gallium arsenide. They then used a combination of electron beam lithography and a technique whereby evaporated molybdenum is fired at the wafer to create the three electrodes that make up the transistor: the gate, the source, and the drain.

Del Alamo says that although none of these techniques is really novel in the semiconductor industry, their use with non-silicon compounds has not been explored much so far, mainly because traditional applications of indium gallium arsenide don't require the tiny components that microchips call for.

"But when you are talking about integrating billions of tiny transistors onto a chip, then we need to completely reformulate the fabrication technology of compound semiconductor transistors to look much more like that of silicon transistors," he says.

According to del Alamo, the group's next step will be to try to shrink the size of the transistors it can produce even smaller than 22nm, with the ultimate goal of reducing them to below 10nm.

Should they succeed, however, there's still one hitch to overcome before chips based on the new material go mainstream; namely, that indium gallium arsenide – which is composed of the elements indium, gallium, and arsenic – is currently as much as 10 times as expensive as the equivalent amount of silicon. Those chips may be small, all right. But they'll cost you.

Del Alamo and his group will present their findings at the International Electron Devices Meeting, taking place this week in San Francisco. ®

Combat fraud and increase customer satisfaction

More from The Register

next story
Samsung Galaxy S5 fingerprint scanner hacked in just 4 DAYS
Sammy's newbie cooked slower than iPhone, also costs more to build
US mobile firms cave on kill switch, agree to install anti-theft code
Slow and kludgy rollout will protect corporate profits
Leaked pics show EMBIGGENED iPhone 6 screen
Fat-fingered fanbois rejoice over Chinternet snaps
Microsoft lobs pre-release Windows Phone 8.1 at devs who dare
App makers can load it before anyone else, but if they do they're stuck with it
Report: Apple seeking to raise iPhone 6 price by a HUNDRED BUCKS
'Well, that 5c experiment didn't go so well – let's try the other direction'
Feast your PUNY eyes on highest resolution phone display EVER
Too much pixel dust for your strained eyeballs to handle
Rounded corners? Pah! Amazon's '3D phone has eye-tracking tech'
Now THAT'S what we call a proper new feature
Oh no, Joe: WinPhone users already griping over 8.1 mega-update
Hang on. Which bit of Developer Preview don't you understand?
Zucker punched: Google gobbles Facebook-wooed Titan Aerospace
Up, up and away in my beautiful balloon flying broadband-bot
Sony battery recall as VAIO goes out with a bang, not a whimper
The perils of having Panasonic as a partner
prev story

Whitepapers

Designing a defence for mobile apps
In this whitepaper learn the various considerations for defending mobile applications; from the mobile application architecture itself to the myriad testing technologies needed to properly assess mobile applications risk.
3 Big data security analytics techniques
Applying these Big Data security analytics techniques can help you make your business safer by detecting attacks early, before significant damage is done.
Five 3D headsets to be won!
We were so impressed by the Durovis Dive headset we’ve asked the company to give some away to Reg readers.
The benefits of software based PBX
Why you should break free from your proprietary PBX and how to leverage your existing server hardware.
Securing web applications made simple and scalable
In this whitepaper learn how automated security testing can provide a simple and scalable way to protect your web applications.