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Straining for Speed

In search of faster electronics, chip makers contort silicon crystals

Hungry for details, dozens of microcircuit specialists surrounded Tahir Ghani after his talk last December at an annual microelectronics conference in Washington, D.C. Ghani, a senior-level engineer with the chip giant Intel in Hillsboro, Ore., had sketchily revealed two new types of transistors that his company was getting ready to use in its Pentium microprocessors and Centrino chips. After his talk, Ghani remained cagey. After all, his inquisitors were from IBM, Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company, NEC, and other rival chip makers. All these companies are confronted by the same daunting challenge: to maintain the swift pace of miniaturization even while their mainstay manufacturing methods are reaching their limits.

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