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Chipmakers Test Ferroelectrics as a Route to ­ltralow-Power Chips


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GlobalFoundries' experimental chip.

Semiconductor companies are investigating ferroelectrics as a way to get a strong signal at lower voltage, saving power and extending battery longevity.

Credit: Emily Cooper

Semiconductor companies are investigating ferroelectrics, with semiconductor maker GlobalFoundries recently detailing ferroelectric-frosted transistors fabricated via 14-nanometer manufacturing technology.

Ferroelectrics are seen as a way to get a strong signal at lower voltage, saving power and extending battery longevity.

Researchers have worked out a method to encourage friendlier materials such as hafnium dioxide, already used in chip components, to function as ferroelectrics. Instead of using these materials to substitute for insulators, engineers usually layer them on top of existing insulators.

In GlobalFoundries' experimental transistors, clouds of electrons around silicon-doped hafnium dioxide undergo polarization, while the ring oscillators achieve a 10-fold increase in the current. However, the odd behavior of electrical charges in ferroelectric materials slows things down, and some researchers are doubtful that transistors built with ferroelectrics will top 100 MHz, while others think building these devices will require impractically thick ferroelectric layers.

From IEEE Spectrum
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