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Rensselaer researchers are using advanced materials to create a faster programmable chip that could set the standard for future high-speed digital circuits.
Russell Kraft 76, senior project manager in the Center for Integrated Electronics (pictured), and Jack McDonald, professor of electrical, computer, and systems engineering, are using silicon germanium (SiGe) as the basis for the next generation of field programmable gate arrays (FPGA)chips in which the user can program the circuits for specific needs. They have been working closely with IBM on the project.
FPGA chips have been available for many years but the current materials and technologies used to build them typically limit their speed to the 250-megahertz range. The unique combination of SiGe and the researchers advanced chip-making process can provide the increased speed and high yield rate of circuit fabrication necessary for viable commercial products. According to Kraft, silicon germanium FPGAs can run in the 1- to 20-gigahertz range, which means the more advanced chips could run up to 80 times faster than todays conventional ones.
A key strategy for scaling up the circuits is intelligent power management. When part of the circuit isnt being used or isnt required to work fast, we can power it down or lower its power. This technique will allow us to use power more effectively, says Kraft.
Kraft believes that this technology could be of interest to the military, which needs extremely fast image processing capabilities or networking circuitry.
Available software cannot process images quickly and automatically enough. But this hardware could improve the processing speed by a factor of 100 or more.
The project, supported by a National Science Foundation Combined Research and Curriculum Development grant, will teach students how to design systems in the 1- to 20-gigahertz range.
|Rensselaer Magazine: March 2002|
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