Lab to build and test high speed, high frequency nanochips

By Alyssa Patrick, College of Engineering and Architecture

Pande-80PULLMAN, Wash. – Some of the world’s smallest and most efficient computer chips will be built and tested by professors in the School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science with funding from a grant for state-of-the-art equipment.

“We can make chips as small as 28 nanometers, which is uncommon for a university lab,” said Partha Pande, a Washington State University professor. “They are very small and very high speed.” More than 4 million tiny transistors, of which the chips are comprised, could fit on the period at the end of this sentence.

The technology could translate to increased speed and capability of the Internet and smart devices.

The research team in the lab.

In August, Pande and his team of researchers received a grant from the U.S. Army Research Office to procure equipment that can test chips that use millimeter-wave frequency, an extremely high frequency that can transmit data up to 10 times faster than current capabilities.

A major complication in building the chips is designing infrastructure small enough to transmit high frequencies. Pande is known for his research in this area, which is called small world architecture. The equipment provided by the grant will allow him to build and test these architectures, rather than just relying on computer models.

Until about a decade ago millimeter-wave frequency was seldom used because the necessary electrical components were not available. Transmitting waves at high frequencies requires small chip infrastructures, like those Pande and his team will build and test.

The researchers are particularly interested in using network-on-chip technology that allows several embedded cores to exist on a single chip. Since receiving his Ph.D. from the University of British Columbia in 2005, Pande has focused on this technology. It could greatly improve the energy efficiency of data centers and other enterprises that require high-performance computers.

These computers currently run on multicore processors, which require data to travel from core to core through wires. It is a slow and energy-draining process. Network-on-chip technology at millimeter-wave frequencies allows for wireless links between cores, resulting in less energy loss and higher data transfer speed.