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Just how fast is fast enough?

Switching transistors on and off is only half the story. By Philip Ling.

The great 'digital/analogue divide' has long been the limiting factor in creating true and complex systems on a single chip. The dominance which cmos enjoys as the number one process in the industry comes with a responsibility to be at the forefront of developments, and its position has demanded the adoption of more analogue functionality.

The continued efforts here have seen greater integration of analogue and digital functionality, most recently involving interfaces – such as differential signalling – and more phase locked loops being added to classically digital devices.

Whilst the integration of analogue and digital is being addressed by the ubiquitous cmos, development efforts continue in more esoteric materials that, while may never be mainstream, continue to play a key role in today's technology, particularly in high frequency devices.

There is a host of semiconductor substrates other than silicon being put to good use but, because the volumes are much less and the processes don't benefit from so many chemists researching them, the relative costs remain higher. However, the performance achieved using some materials still stands so far ahead of cmos that the effort and investment are worth it. This is particularly true for analogue, where performance doesn't stand still: instead, its limits are constantly pushed to deliver greater bandwidth across the airwaves.

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Graham Pitcher

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