Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Another Quantum Leap at IBM

Here's the lastest from the labs at IBM. Sounds like another quatnum leap to me...


IBM Pares Speed Gap In Memory Circuitry Design for Data Storage
May Be in Use Next Year;
Performance Could Double
February 14, 2007; Page B2

International Business Machines Corp. is claiming a breakthrough in developing circuitry to store data on future microprocessor chips.

The big computer maker said its approach -- based on exploiting the most widely used memory technology in a new way -- could triple the data stored on a typical microprocessor with a resulting doubling of computing performance.

"We think this is the next big thing in getting more system performance," said Lisa Su, IBM's vice president of semiconductor research and development.

Microprocessors, the calculating engines for computers, increasingly come with storage circuitry to minimize the delays associated with fetching data from external memory chips. This "cache memory" typically uses a kind of circuitry used on chips called SRAMs, or static random-access memories.

SRAMs are fast but require six transistors to store a single bit of data. The more widely used chip known as dynamic random-access memories, or DRAMs, only need one transistor and another component, a capacitor, to store a bit. But DRAMs, though they can store more data in a smaller space, have generally been considered too slow for cache memory.

IBM researchers are discussing their progress in closing the speed gap at a conference in San Francisco today.

Exploiting a manufacturing technology called silicon-on-insulator, the company has developed unusually fast DRAM circuitry for use as cache memory. Subramanian Iyer, a director of IBM's manufacturing-process development, estimates it takes 1.5 nanoseconds -- or billionths of a second -- to fetch data from its enhanced DRAM technology, compared with 10 to 12 nanoseconds for conventional DRAMs and 0.8 to 1 nanoseconds for SRAMs. Mr. Iyer said three times more data can be stored in the same amount of space by switching from SRAM to DRAM circuitry; he expects the technology to be incorporated on microprocessors that will be manufactured next year using a new production process.

Such benefits could help IBM's Power microprocessors in a performance race with chips from Intel Corp. and others. But Shekhar Borkar, the director of Intel's microprocessor technology lab, said extra manufacturing costs associated with using DRAM circuitry could outweigh the benefits.

IBM is a technology partner with Advanced Micro Devices Inc., an Intel rival that could benefit from the computer maker's memory research. Meanwhile, other alternatives to SRAM for cache memory are also being studied.

Innovative Silicon Inc., a start-up, has been promoting a technology it calls Z-RAM that stores data using a single transistor. Its licensees include AMD.

An AMD spokesman said it is "evaluating a number of new and emerging technologies" for cache memory.


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