IBM and Intel accelerated their horse race in semiconductors when each unveiled at midnight Saturday\u00a0EST similar chip-manufacturing advances.The research from both companies involves a crucial building block\u2014called high-k material\u2014to build smaller, more efficient transistors in microprocessors. High-k materials are better insulators than standard silicon dioxide, allowing engineers to keep shrinking transistors without losing efficiency through leaking electricity.In both announcements, engineers say they plan to use the material to build transistors that switch on and off better, using "high-k metal gate" technology.The announcements promise to keep alive Moore\u2019s Law, which holds that the number of transistors on a chip doubles every two years. It\u2019s good news for users because the more transistors that can be packed on a microprocessor, the faster it runs a PC. The new materials also mean the manufacturers won\u2019t have a problem continuing to etch transistors on chips at microscopic sizes, and more importantly, mass-produce them so they\u2019re affordable to PC users. In fact, Intel officials predict this breakthrough alone will ensure Moore\u2019s Law thrives "well into the next decade."The announcements underscore an old industry rivalry, since on its part, IBM worked with Sony, Toshiba and Advanced Micro Devices (AMD), Intel\u2019s main opponent in the microprocessor market. Both Intel and AMD say they will use the technology to speed the transition from 65-nanometer chip-building architecture to 45-nanometer. Intel is due to start in the second half of the year production of the family: a new laptop dual-core microprocessor, a desktop dual-core and a quad-core, and server dual and quad-core processors. It expects to ramp up to full production in three factories by the first half of 2008."That would only be the first five of 15 products that we have in development for 45nm," said Kaizad Mistry, manager of the 45-nanometer program at Intel.Pressed on when the company would actually begin selling Penryn chips, Intel declined to be more specific.AMD plans to produce its first 45-nanometer chips in mid-2008, in the wake of the launch of its first 65-nanometer product, the quad-core "Barcelona" chip due out in mid-2007, according to AMD spokeswoman Jessica Kaiser. IBM said it plans to sell systems with chips that use the new transistors by the end of 2008, using its manufacturing line in East Fishkill, N.Y.Intel insists it has a large lead on all competitors in the progress of shrinking chip features to 45 nanometers."We expect followers, but no company is anywhere near where we are with this incredible advancement," said Intel spokeswoman Kari Aakre. "We are not only announcing an amazing transistor breakthrough with our high-k, metal gate solution, but we\u2019re also already demonstrating it with five early versions of processors from our Penryn family, including server, desktop and laptop systems booting all major operating systems and various applications."The new processors will mark a big improvement in speed and performance, and require less electricity, than the previous generation of Intel microprocessors. If all goes as planned, they will also give Intel a bit of a head start in mass-producing chips with 45-nanometer transistors. A nanometer is microscopic measurement, just a billionth of a meter. More than 2,000 transistors 45 nanometers\u00a0wide could fit on the period at the end of this sentence. Intel\u2019s manufacturing lead should allow it to bring chips to market before its rivals, but IBM could get a greater return from this technology in the long term because it uses the high-k metal gates in a different way, one analyst said."It\u2019s a wonderfully parallel development of a technology that should lead to faster, more efficient chips in everything from PCs to cell phones and iPods," said Richard Doherty, senior analyst with The Envisioneering Group."Intel has the advantage that they\u2019re already in production, but IBM\u2019s advance may be even more significant and lead to faster, smaller chips. The IBM breakthrough is to integrate the metal gate so it\u2019s embedded in the silicon. Intel put the metal gates on top of a proven silicon architecture."IBM confirmed that it planned to use high-k, metal gate technology not to produce faster chips in the short term, but to solve long-range problems such as progressing from 45-nanometer production to 32-nanometer and 22-nanometer. The company will use the advance to aid development of large-scale servers and supercomputers, said Bernie Meyerson, chief technologist for IBM\u2019s systems\u00a0and technology group."We don\u2019t build Vespa scooters; we build Ferraris. We\u2019ve been talking about high-k for five years now, and if we wanted to, we could ship it out the door tomorrow. But there\u2019s no reason to do that because it doesn\u2019t solve any problem for us. We\u2019re not addressing a crisis issue that hit us in the head when we didn\u2019t see it coming," Meyerson said."Ours is a more fundamental implementation; it\u2019s a drop-in, or a one-for-one replacement, for SiO2," he said, referring to existing silicon dioxide technology. "I\u2019ve said for years that gate oxide scaling is ending. The gates are literally five atoms thick. What are you going to do, build one that\u2019s two-and-a-half atoms thick?"Related Links:\n\nIntel Profit Down 39 Percent\n\nSun to Once Again Sell Intel-Powered ServersCheck out our CIO News Alerts and Tech Informer pages for more updated news coverage.