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Scientists in the USA have driven an IBM processor – made of germanium impregnated silicon – to over 500GHz, at least 100 times faster than current desktop chips.

Although the addition of germanium makes silicon chips run more efficiently, it doesn’t eliminate the heat generated by such intense computations. Liquid helium was used to drop the initial temperature of the chip to -268.5C, just a shred above absolute zero, which enabled it to hit the 500GHz mark. At room temperature the same processor managed around 350GHz – still an astounding feat.

The team, composed of scientists from IBM and the Georgia Institute of Technology, are investigating the potential of using non-silicon materials within chips. Germanium – especially when used in conjunction with silicon – doesn’t significantly increase the cost of manufacturing chips, unlike expensive materials like Gallium Arsenide. The scientists believe their experiments could lead to processors that hit 1THz at room temperature.

“We observe effects in these devices at cryogenic temperatures, which potentially make them faster than simple theory would suggest,” Professor John Cressler told the BBC. “Understanding the basic physics of these advanced transistors arms us with knowledge that could make the next generation of silicon-based integrated circuits even better.”

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