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Is GaAs the new future of IC architecture?

Posted: 15 Sep 2014 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:GaAs? Moore's Law? IC design?

The next-generation of IC design could be featuring gallium arsenide instead of silicon. POET Technologies co-founder and chief scientist Geoff Taylor said GaAs has been found to boost electrical transistor performance while integrating optical circuitry capabilities.

These qualities enable both higher performance and novel IC architectures, thereby extending Moore's Law indefinitely.

"Silicon digital logic hits the wall at 4GHz, but we can produce small gallium arsenide [GaAs] analogue circuits switching at 100GHz today and 400GHz in the not too distant future," Taylor, a former Bell Labs scientist, told EE Times. "Plus POET fabricates optical emitters and detectors for on-chip optical interconnects."

Combining standard logic with optical components on the same chip also changes the design methodology, prompting a collaboration with Synopsys, Inc., of Hillsboro, Ore., to help design hybrid electro-optical devices. For instance, an optical loop achieves an ultra-low jitter oscillator with higher bandwidth than silicon, according to POET. By going to multi-wave lengths, POET also aims to build ultra-precise analogue-to-digital converters by encoding voltages as wavelengths, resulting in higher resolution and bit rates with reduced power and fewer components.

Other advantages of III-V over silicon is its lower operating voltageas low as 0.3V with electron mobilities as high as 12,000 cm2/ (V?s) achieved by strained quantum wellslowering the power required to operate III-V chips by 10 times or more, according to POET.


POET's use of GaAs substrates allows it to include optical devices alongside electrical devices, allowing transistors and optical interconnects to co-exist on the same chip. (Source: POET)

Of course, GaAs wafers are more expensive than Si, but the next generation of Si is already using silicon-on-insulator with fully depleted (SOI-FD) transistors, a technology that costs almost as much as GaAs, according to Taylor.

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