Germanium transistor could increase speed of computers

An experimental design for electronics components made from conventional materials could provide a new way to increase the speed of computers.

Researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s (MIT’s) Microsystems Technology Laboratories (MTL) have developed a type of transistor that is twice as fast as previous experimental models and almost four times as fast as the best commercial equivalent.

The new p-type transistor is made from germanium, alloys of which are already found in commercial microchips, so germanium transistors could be easier to integrate into existing chip-manufacturing processes than those made from more exotic materials.

The transistor also features what’s known a trigate design, which could solve some of the problems that currently plague computer circuits at extremely small sizes.

A p-type transistor is a kind of switch that controls the flow of ‘holes’ — the gaps created in an atomic structure as electrons move around. (An n-type transistor controls the flow of electrons and is typically easier to improve.)

The researchers achieved the high speeds by ‘straining’ the germanium in the transistor — forcing its atoms closer together than they’d ordinarily find comfortable.

To do that, they grew the germanium on top of several different layers of silicon and a silicon-germanium composite. The germanium atoms naturally try to line up with the atoms of the layers beneath them, which compresses them together.

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January 7, 2013



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