IBM's graphene transistors pave way for commercial production

IBM has developed its fastest graphene transistor to date, able to execute 155 billion cycles per second, with expectations that commercially viable processors could be on their way in the not too distant future.

The transistor is around 50 percent faster than previous prototypes developed by the firm’s researchers, with IBM responsible for breakthrough technologies in a variety of fields these days, beating the previous 100GHz record set by a graphene transistor last year.

The development comes after the firm has been setting its sights on graphene eventually overtaking silicon with it unusual properties offering a nubemr of potential benefits.

According to researcher Yu-Ming Lin, the steps made in this research have shown that processors based on wonder material graphene could be produced at low cost, using standard semiconductor processes, meaning that their widespread use could be a reality soon.

With the high strength of the material and fast flow of electrons compared to conventional materials there are many applications such as wireless communications and networking that would use the attributes of graphene in passing information to chips at an increased speed.

While there may be many applications that are currently fit for graphene, Lin notes that implementation in PCs is not one that is likely to be used just yet, with a lack of a natural energy gap in natural graphene meaning that the on-off ratio required for digital switching operations won’t fit the bill.

Processing analogue signals are where graphene’s strength lies for now though according to Lin, where a high on-off ratio is not required.

In terms of size the new transistor is IBM’s smallest to date according to the research team, with the gate length of the radio-frequency graphene transistor reduced from 550 nanometres to 40 according to PC World.

And the fact that it was produced with the same process technology that is used in silicon device fabrication means that the material, brought to notoriety by Russsian scientists Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov at the University of Manchester, is increasing viable in terms of commercial production.

A chief tech strategist at In-Stat highlighted that graphene is a material that the industry is only beginning to come to terms with, stating that like any new materials technology it takes billions of investment dollars to develop, a sentiment echoed in the House of Lords recently.

He also said that if existing technologies are to hit a brick wall in development in terms of physics it will be vital to move to another material sch as graphene, adding that to do so will involve the material fitting the three most elements of semi manufacturing; materials, transistor design and lithography.

But if the much vaunted material can be supported through existing and future lithography processes and transistor designs then its use it certainly like to be more widespread in the future.