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Intel Hotter, IBM Cooler

Here comes Apple's 'ex' with a new speed record.

SAN JOSE (Rixstep) -- International Business Machines, Apple's former CPU partner, and Georgia Tech have today revealed they've broken the silicon speed record. Their new chip operates at frequencies above 500 GHz when it is cryogenically frozen to four and one half degrees above absolute zero.

500 GHz is 250 times as fast as Intel's current line of Core Duo processors used in the Apple 'MacBook' series where the generated heat is nigh on sufficient to boil water.

The IBM/GA Tech team believe it is possible to make chips run at 1000 GHz (1 THz) at room temperature. Already their new chip is more than a third on the way to that goal, clocking in at 350 GHz at room temperature.

The chips used by the IBM/GA Tech team are made of silicon and germanium, the element used in the first transistor at Bell Laboratories. Ultrahigh frequency SiGe circuits can make possible a new class of powerful low energy chips that deliver future applications such as HDTV and movie quality video to cellphones, automobiles and other devices.

'For the first time, Georgia Tech and IBM have demonstrated that speeds of half a trillion cycles per second can be achieved in a commercial silicon based technology using large wafers and silicon compatible low cost manufacturing techniques', said John Cressler of Georgia Tech in a statement.

'This groundbreaking collaborative research by Georgia Tech and IBM redefines the performance limits of silicon based semiconductors', said Bernie Meyerson of IBM in the same statement.

Cheap 'n' Fast

The original transmitter-resistor at Bell Laboratories was made from germanium, an element that is far more expensive than silicon, but silicon has its limitations.

Other materials such as gallium arsenide have therefore been used in more critical applications, but they can often be cost-prohibitive and difficult to manufacture.

The chip industry would prefer using the cheaper silicon technology.

Germanium is already being used in cellphone chips to make them operate more efficiently. Current silicon technology can still be used.

Nanotubes and Crowded Spaces

IBM have previously stunned the world by creating a complete computer circuit built in a single molecule.

The circuit is less than one fifth the width of a human hair and can only be seen through an electron microscope.

The design uses twelve aluminium and palladium transistors laid along the length of a carbon nanotube to create what is known as a ring oscillator. The finished circuit is 18 millionths of a metre long and sits across the narrower tube.

'The ring oscillator is a very nice tool', said Joerg Appenzeller of IBM.

IBM researchers have also been able to create silicon wafers at a third of the thickness of those produced with current technology, increasing speeds even more.

'Faster and faster chips open up new applications and reduce costs for existing products', said David Ahlgren of IBM.

Apple CEO Steve Jobs was not immediately available for comment.

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