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e-business: Motorola marry best of both chip materials.

Byline: Steve Pain Technology Editor

Communications equipment giant Motorola has developed revolutionary new high speed chip technology which could change the face of microprocessor manufacturing.

The American giant has been able to effectively blend the low-cost virtues of silicon technology chips with speed-of-light optics to create processors which are up to 40 times faster than existing technology.

Motorola said its research arm has found a way to combine silicon -still the basis of most computer chips - with gallium arsenide, a more expensive chip-making material, to create a high-speed optical chip that is durable and cost-effective.

Silicon-only chips, used in computers and other electronic devices, tend to be durable and cheap, but electronic circuits tend to slow down any optical features that travel at the speed of light.

By contrast, gallium arsenide chips, which are used in DVD video players, communications equipment and lasers, are 40 times faster than silicon chips - but they are fragile and expensive.

University research groups and semiconductor companies have been racing to develop gallium arsenide chips that are less costly to make.

'What we have fundamentally done is change the whole foundation of the high-tech industry,' claims Dennis Roberson, Motorola's chief technology officer.

'What we are now able to do is to marry the best characteristics of silicon with the high performance and optical characteristics of new materials,' he said.

While the Chicago-area based company may be best known for finished products, such as mobile phones and antenna equipment, Motorola also has a long history of developing semiconductor technology for use in its communications products.

Motorola has filed more than 270 patent applications for this technology, which it said it plans to license to other chip makers.

Steve Cullen, principal analyst of semiconductor research for Cahners In-Stat Group, said: 'They are on to something big. The thing that gets me excited about this is there's a huge amount of potential for being able to put silicon and gallium arsenide and other materials like that on the same chip.

'The long-term potential for this thing is being able to bring the computing power of silicon and the communications capability of gallium arsenide together.'

Mr Roberson said he expects that chips created with this technology will initially replace more-expensive gallium arsenide chips.

The development of the new technology should benefit companies that currently make gallium arsenide chips, including Microsemi Corporation, Triquint Semiconductor and Emcore Corporation, said Bob Merritt, vice president of Semico Research Corp.

'It substantially reduces the cost of basic chips for all of the existing companies involved in that particular technology area,' Mr Merritt said.

According to Mr Roberson the silicon-gallium arsenide wafer is one-tenth the cost of a pure gallium arsenide wafer, but it performs just as fast.

Consumers could see the prices of some electronics equipment, like DVD players, fall as a result.

In the second stage, the new chips may be used in products that currently use silicon chips, Mr Roberson said.

In personal computers, for example, the new technology would allow chip makers like Intel and arch-rival Advanced Micro Devices to create chips that better integrate communications functions.

Eventually, Motorola expects the new chip to spawn the invention of new electronics equipment.

Motorola also plans to develop and license chips partially made from indium phosphide and gallium nitride, compounds that fall in the same category as gallium arsenide.

The silicon-gallium arsenide technology is still in its development stage, but power amplifiers for cell phones using this technology could be available as early as 2002.

Other potential markets include data storage, lasers for products such as DVD players, medical equipment, radar, automotive electronics, lighting and photovoltaics, Motorola said.
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Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Sep 11, 2001
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