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UIUC Creates World's Fastest Transistor Again 233

Posted by CowboyNeal
from the breaking-one's-own-record dept.
An anonymous reader writes "The University of Illinois has developed (again) the world's fastest transistor operating at over 500 GHz. They used an indium phosphide based wafer, and super-scaled dimensions. The device kind of looks like a spaceship." Milton Feng, the professor in charge of the team behind the transistor, admits that their ultimate goal is a terahertz transistor, which given their previous achievements, doesn't sound too lofty.
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UIUC Creates World's Fastest Transistor Again

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  • ...Imagine a Beowulf cluster of these! or better yet, can this fit into a Powerbook?
  • Wow Moore's Law at its best. I wonder what is the cost for manufactoring those, perhaps too much to mass produce?
    • Re:Faster and faster (Score:2, Informative)

      by Holi (250190)
      How does a faster transistor have anything to do with Moore's law. Moore's Law is all about doubling the number of transistors every 18 months. It has nothing to do with how fast those transistors are.
  • Cost break! (Score:5, Funny)

    by Hegemony (104638) on Thursday November 06, 2003 @07:40PM (#7412541)
    Sweet, now the 250 Ghz's will be totally affordable.
  • "During the past year, high-speed transistor records have fallen like dominoes on the Illinois campus."

    January: 382
    May: 452
    October: 509
    I'm no statistics expert but extrapolating those results I estimate they'll top out at 690 in June 2005
    • I suppose that if they were stacking bricks, then your extrapolation might mean something.

      Supposedly they have a better idea of the pace of their development then you do.

      "I'm no statistics expert" indeed.
    • IANAS (I am not a statistician ;) )
      If you go by percent increase, they've been averaging 115.5% increase every 4.5 months.

      If they keep that up, they'll hit 588GHz in March 2004, 679GHZ in late august 2004.
      By June 2005, they'll be breaking 900GHz.
  • I'm sure Gordon Moore is rolling in his grave! Wait, he isn't dead yet...
  • by WARM3CH (662028) on Thursday November 06, 2003 @07:42PM (#7412555)
    When I started designing hardware circuits, the world was much more beautiful. You could understand everything that your small micro-processor based system did, downto the function of the BJTs in the TTL devices down there... Then Intel started the 1GHz race and I had to learn a great deal of RF techniques to just design my next PCB. And now 500GHz?!!! At this rate, a few years later I'll have to learn more about RF and then eventually optics than next hot FSM synthesis algorithm! I guess I'd better change my job, start something more calm and steady, like paiting or ...
    • HAHA, you got to admit it makes things interesting.
    • How do you package a 500 GHz transistor? And I thought UHF transistors and stripline construction was exotic stuff.
    • it's a 509GHz *TRANSISTOR*, not a chip. even for the transistors on a P4, they also operate at a "speed" much faster than the actual chip operations - after all, to squeeze 3+ GHz out of a chip, which has tons of gates connected one after another, isn't exactly a "everybody switch at once" deal.

      besides, for real high speed stuff people are moving toward serial on PCB anyway, parallel just doesn't work anymore past a certain point due to the increased capacitance that's caused by traces getting tighter with
      • Bear with me that your FPGA example is not that easy that it sounds when you need to connect more than two chips... Differential lines on the PCB are very difficult things if you don't have specialized CAD tools to automate their routing and design. In the past the most advanced tool you'd buy would be simple autorouter to do your PCB but now to design a 200Hz motherboard you need to have an autorouter plus 100+ highspeed design rules, then pass it to a EMC tool to analyze the noise, crosstalk, reflections,
  • by Anonymous Coward
    All you do is put two together? thats 1 terrahertz.

    Why aren't people logical?

  • Will we all need an Asetek VapoChill [hothardware.com] to keep chips using these things cool?
  • Improvement (Score:5, Funny)

    by Carnildo (712617) on Thursday November 06, 2003 @07:45PM (#7412582) Homepage Journal
    From the article:
    150 nm, 382 GHz
    100 nm, 452 GHz
    75 nm, 509 GHz

    At their current rate of improvement, a 680GHz device will have a collector size of 0 nm. Just imagine what will happen once they manage negative sizes!
    • by spektr (466069) on Thursday November 06, 2003 @07:59PM (#7412688)
      Just imagine what will happen once they manage negative sizes!

      I imagine: 800i GHz in the first generation and even more imaginary in the following years!
    • That's actually an interesting point. Assuming for the sake of argument your extrapolation is correct, it's an indication that we're close to the limit of that technology. Looking at it in a very simplistic way it seems like all further improvements to this transistor is just about making it smaller in order to make it faster. And as you indicated, there's only so far you can go with that.

      It's time for a new paradigm shift. It's time to look at exploring new technologies in this field, including some of th
      • My extrapolation isn't correct. I fit a line to the last two data points, when I probably should have fit a logarithmic curve to all three points. That's not to say there isn't a limit -- it's just that my prediction is going about it the wrong way.
      • The next paradigm will be along just as the current one seems to be leveling off.

        "Moore's Law Was Not the First, but the Fifth Paradigm To Provide

        Exponential Growth of Computing. [kurzweilai.net] Each time one paradigm runs out of steam, another picks up the pace." - Ray Kurzweil.

        Diamond will eventually replace silicon, and we haven't even started building dense 3D or 2-1/2D layered chips yet (because we can't build with atomic precision yet).

        --

      • Yeah, too bad those computers will only be able to chug along at 700 GHz or so.

        Of course, there was a time when 2.5 Mhz was fast. *Sigh* those were the days.
    • by igny (716218) on Thursday November 06, 2003 @08:38PM (#7412980) Homepage Journal
      If you plot those 3 points on a plane you will see that the dependence is not linear. I tried to fit a curve through those points and got that

      y=3000/x^0.4

      where x is size (nm), y is speed (GHz). 1000GHz will be reached at ~15nm.
      • In theory, there is no difference between Yogi Berra and Albert Einstein. In practice, however, there is.
  • by spektr (466069) on Thursday November 06, 2003 @07:47PM (#7412598)
    The University of Illinois has developed again the world's fastest transistor operating at over 500 GHz

    If only they had documented the damn thing, they wouldn't have to develop it twice!
  • Their latest device, with a frequency of 509 gigahertz, is 57 gigahertz faster than their previous record holder and could find use in applications such as high-speed communications products, consumer electronics and electronic combat systems

    Or to be a little less specific: uh, pretty much everywhere where electronic transistors are used today.
  • by seriv (698799) on Thursday November 06, 2003 @07:47PM (#7412601)
    which are built from silicon and germanium, the Illinois transistors are made from indium phosphide and indium gallium arsenide.
    Maybe they should call Champaign Indium Phosphide Valley.
    -Seriv
    (it is stupid I know)
  • Well, Duh! (Score:4, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday November 06, 2003 @07:48PM (#7412604)
    ."The steady rise in the speed of bipolar transistors has relied largely on the vertical scaling of the epitaxial layer structure to reduce the carrier transit time," said Milton Feng, the Holonyak Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Illinois, whose team has been working on high-speed compound semiconductor transistors since 1995. "However, this comes at the cost of increasing the base-collector capacitance. To compensate for this unwanted effect, we have employed lateral scaling of both the emitter and the collector."

    I mean, that's just blindingly obvious.
    • Translation (Score:3, Informative)

      by shadow_slicer (607649)
      Disclaimer: I am not professor of EE (just undergrad)

      Quote:"The steady rise in the speed of bipolar transistors has relied largely on the vertical scaling of the epitaxial layer structure to reduce the carrier transit time,"

      Translation: bipolar transistors (BJTs) have gotten faster because they made them thinner (less distance for electrons to travel)

      Quote: "However, this comes at the cost of increasing the base-collector capacitance. To compensate for this unwanted effect, we have employed lateral sc
      • Re:Translation (Score:2, Informative)

        by empty (53267)
        And just to complete the thought...
        ...so they made it skinnier as well (lowering the area) to lower the capacitance.

        Lower capacitance is faster because that capacitor must be charged up, which takes time.

        (The base resistance is also important because higher base resistance makes it harder to charge--again slower.) So a heavily doped (low resistance for easy electron transport) base layer, that is thin (for small distances for the electrons to travel) and small area (so the capacitance, and hence charging

  • by Anonymous Coward
    By all the compound words in there, I'm pretty sure this has been nicked from star trek!
  • by The_Rippa (181699) * on Thursday November 06, 2003 @07:51PM (#7412624)
    Earlier today, the blazing speed of the transistor was put to the test to pull apart the makeup of the sought-after "Flaming Homer"

    Prof. Frink of the University of Illinois had this to say...

    "Brace yourselves gentlemen. According to the new transistor, the secret ingredient is...Love!? Who's been screwing with this thing?"
  • Transistor Type (Score:2, Informative)

    This isn't a FET like the transistors found in computers (and just about everything else). This is bi-polar technology that uses much more power than FET. They're looking for speed only to make possible very demanding applications like direct microwave processing.
    • Re:Transistor Type (Score:3, Interesting)

      by G4from128k (686170)
      This isn't a FET like the transistors found in computers (and just about everything else). This is bi-polar technology that uses much more power than FET.

      True, but there are technologies that combine CMOS and Bipolar for faster CPU designs (I think BiCMOS was more heavily used back in the 90s). Also IBM is working on mixed material, mixed technology that combines SiGe bipolar chips on a CMOS silicon-on-insulator wafer [extremetech.com]. You never know what those researchers will do next.
  • Too bad current Computer Technology doesn't use indium phosphide and indium gallium arsenide. It would take years for fabs just to adjust to a new material and yield decently.

    Also as someone stated, it's just one transistor not the hundreds of millions that are in current technology (all acting in "harmony").

    Then again, this is a great discovery and a step in the right direction. I'm very proud of my Alma Mater. Too bad I didn't have a class with Professor Feng.
    • I'm very proud of my Alma Mater. Too bad I didn't have a class with Professor Feng.

      Quite so. Such as it is you are left with an impressive UI Number of zero. However this is entirely cancelled out by having a Feng Number of infinity. Thanks for playing!

  • by G4from128k (686170) on Thursday November 06, 2003 @07:54PM (#7412654)
    At 1 THz, it will take more than 40 clock cycles for a signal to move across a 1/2 inch die of the CPU. And it will take 320 clock cycles for a round-trip to a memory location just 2 inches away. (And that is assuming the signals travel at the speed of light in a vacuum, not the slower speed found in metal traces or optical fibers.) Should make it interesting for chip designers.
    • by RevRigel (90335) on Thursday November 06, 2003 @10:13PM (#7413665)
      The speed they're talking about is typically GBP (gain bandwidth product), or the frequency at which the gain of the transistor is 1. It's not typically useful at a gain of 1 (for instance, if you want to fan it out to like transistors, it'll need to be at least n for n fanouts).
      The clock speed on a chip is significantly slower than the speeds they're talking about because in order to achieve that external clock speed, the individual components must be faster. Say you had a P4, with its 20 stage pipeline. Each pipeline stage must complete in a clock cycle. However, say there's a propagation of say, 10 transistors for the output at the end of that pipeline stage to be valid. Each individual transistor would have to be 10 times as fast as the clock speed in order for the processor to work.
      There will not be 500GHz or 1THz computers any time soon, at least not without extremely long pipelines and even faster transistors than this (to accomodate a useful fanout value).

      Every time an article quoting a GBP-derived transistor speed comes out, everyone misunderstands this issue, so, here it is.
      • No, it isnt. Theere have been transitors with a transition frequency of >1 THz made by intel, IBM and AMD.

        This one seems to be usable.
        But, With IndiumPhosphit and its insanely high electron mobility it quite plausible. The only drawback is the relatively low hole mobility, so you can forget >100Ghz CMOS, and ECL combined with the "damn to high" thermal conductivity because of the narrow bandgap will make it not very useful outsite of a few special areas (high frequenzy amps, ect..)
      • The speed they're talking about is typically GBP (gain bandwidth product), or the frequency at which the gain of the transistor is 1. It's not typically useful at a gain of 1 (for instance, if you want to fan it out to like transistors, it'll need to be at least n for n fanouts).

        Good point

        Each pipeline stage must complete in a clock cycle. However, say there's a propagation of say, 10 transistors for the output at the end of that pipeline stage to be valid

        Very informative. This implies that the G
  • I guess this is another step along the road to removing the analog frontends in radio frequency systems, to be replaced by digital frontends connected to the antenna.

    So what's the vote: will RF designers be obsolete, or will digital designers have to become RF designers?

  • I looked around and didn't come up with any. Has anyone seen the real papers on this stuff? It'd be interesting to see the transfer characteristics of this transistor.
  • There should be a factory nearby that could need these.

    So, how far from the university is the HAL plant?
  • Misinterpreted (Score:5, Informative)

    by Takahashi (409381) on Thursday November 06, 2003 @07:57PM (#7412673)
    It seems like every time an article like this is on slash dot a million people say "wow I can't wait for a computer using that technology".

    What people _don't_ understand is this is not the same technology as is used in a microprocessor. CPUs used Field Effect Transistors. The advantage of FETs is that there is no gate-drain current when the transistor isn't switching so they take very little power. With a bi-polar transistor, you are using a current switch, which would take massive amounts of current if you put many of these into an IC.

    A more realistic application would be in communications systems where your carrier frequency is at 500Ghz.

    Sorry to burst your bubble but you won't see 500Ghz computers next year. Maybe not ever using CMOS.
    • Re:Misinterpreted (Score:3, Interesting)

      by wannasleep (668379)
      Just to complement what Takahashi has said, I would like to point out that:

      even if you could put them into a computer (that would consume more than the rest of the building) it wouldn't go that fast, because you need to build gates with those transistors and put some of those gates together to form a path between registries. The frequency of the computer is the inverse of the time that a signal needs to go from one register to another in the slowest path in the worst case conditions

      The modern FETs a

    • So it's actually impossible to currently do RF communication on terahertz bands?
  • "Indium GaAs is the technology of the future - and always will be."

    Sounds great, can't wait to see it in commercial use, but I'm not holding my breath.
  • I hear it contains an entire bit of storage, but, sadly, it's volatile.
  • Obviously the submitter is a Dr. Who fan.
  • by azpcox (88971) <azpcox.yahoo@com> on Thursday November 06, 2003 @08:10PM (#7412768)
    If it's the fastest transistor out there, how can you measure teh switching speeds with something slower?
  • by Anonymous Coward
    While it's wonderful that they can create a 300fs inverter, you also have to consider that they have yet to prove that they can actually mass-produce these structures to get adequate yields. This is not a trivial operation. Bell Labs, IBM, Intel, and AMD have all announced ultra-small and/or ultra-fast transistor structures, but they all admit that they are far from mass-producing them on a wafer/die.

    Also - the rest of the componentry in a computer or other electronic structure, and how it will all communi
  • "I am a HAL 9000 computer, production number three. I became operational at the HAL pland in Urbana, Illinois on January 12th 1997." - Arthur C. Clarke

    They are six years late allready, about time they're trying to catch up!

    I think HAL is still the most interesting thing to come out of Urbana-Champaign... See this site [2001halslegacy.com] for more information.

  • Faster transistors would enable the creation of faster computers and video games

    Wow, as long as it's being done for something important like video games. I thought they may be pissing away their money on something stupid and useless like bettering humanity.
  • by Kyn (539206)
    Oh shit. I have a test on transistors (ECE 340, Solid State Device Electronics) tonight and attend UIUC...they better fucking not test us on this... :(
  • Party (Score:2, Funny)

    by pagercam2 (533686)
    I hope the nerds at UIUC have some better line than:


    "Hey babe, my transistor swicthes at 509GHz thats GHz not MHz"


    Chicks just don't appreciate fast transistors anymore.

  • by freidog (706941)
    which means (even if they produce a FET version) it's still going to have the terrible electrical characteristics we see in today's transistors. Lots of bleeding and heat in the off state. I'd much rather see people focusing on something like Intel's trigate [electronicstalk.com] transistor. While current transistors can handle and 8 or 10 ghz CPU, nothing will dissipate the KWatt or so the chip would dissipate.....
    • Bipolar transistors have a very different architecture than field effect ones, so never a question of making a FET version of a bipolar one. A simplified way to explain it is that bipolar transistors are current amplifiers, and FET voltage. The use for this 500GHz device would likely be for analog oscillators. mixers & amplifiers, certainly not CPU or memory or gates. Bipolar generally rule the high frequency and high power realm. Within the realm of frequency that the two types overlap, FET's hav
  • by mnmn (145599) on Thursday November 06, 2003 @09:30PM (#7413335) Homepage
    Any vibrating electric signal emits radio waves. Radio waves at higher frequencies become light.

    So its interesting to see the transistors gaining higher speed. Visible light is 384 to 769 THz, so the whole circuit spontaneously glows red and passes all rainbow colors to violet, then grows dark again as we speed up the circuit. This is probably the most efficient way to produce light anyway.

    So we'll have blubs that will provide us with a wide spectrum of lights just as daylight and LCD monitors with insanely high resolutions and color bits

    Not to mention CPUs that emit UV light at night.
  • http://www.intel.com/research/spotlights/terahertz bkgdr.htm [slashdot.org]

    Not really clear if it has actually been RUN at a Terahertz, but it's implied to he capable technology
  • This is good for academic study just to see what can be achieved but the industry should be focused on nano engineering and laying the foundations for optronic design. Processors are just too hot and power hungry; it's a dead end. Time to move into the 21st century with optical circircuitry.

    I have little doubt that an equivelent optical pentium processor, or any other processor of choice, could be created now for a big chunk of change that would be 10 to 100 times more powerful at least, using at quarter
  • It's too bad ... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward
    ... in some ways, because most of the really high-speed transistors are BJTs. Since BJTs leak power constantly (not just when switching, as does CMOS), their application to entire chips is limited.

    They are still useful in very small, critical, high-speed portions of chips, so that's great. But unless we can reach these speeds with CMOS (or some other kind of technology), then we're going nowhere anytime soon.
  • High frequency devices have been around for quite a while. GaAs pHEMT chips are available [ums-gaas.com] from many sources with operating frequencies above 70 GHz. These chips are used for analog signals, not digital logic. Comparing these transistors to silicon CMOS misses what these types of transistors are currently used for.

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