IBM Minds the Airgap

It's a familiar warning for travelers of London's "Underground" subway system -- the recorded admonishment to "mind the gap" between platform and train car, lest an unwary foot get stuck there.

It's an appropriate reminder, in light of today's announcement that IBM (NYSE: IBM  ) has developed a technique to self-assemble nanoscale structures for next-generation microprocessors. The technique enables IBM to create trillions of tiny holes -- known as "airgaps" -- on a computer wafer, which can better insulate microprocessors' wires. According to IBM officials, these airgaps can increase the speed of a chip by 35%, or alternatively allow it to consume 15% less power.

This is a notable improvement in IBM's race to develop ever-faster and more efficient computer chips and remain competitive with the likes of Intel (Nasdaq: INTC  ) . More impressively, this bit of applied nanotechnology isn't simply a laboratory curiosity. Much like Hewlett-Packard's (NYSE: HPQ  ) recent nanotechnology advance, which I discussed yesterday, this development is expected to be an integral component of the 32-nanometer chips IBM rolls out in 2009. (The smaller the distance between circuits on a computer chip -- measured in nanometers -- the more processors can be packed on a single chip, and the more powerful that chip can become.) Companies expected to license the technology include Advanced Micro Devices (NYSE: AMD  ) , Sony (NYSE: SNE  ) , Freescale Semiconductor, and Toshiba.

I'd advise Foolish investors to mind this airgap. It sports just the type of product-improving characteristics that customers are looking for.

Further nanometer-scale Foolishness:

David Gardner and his team of future-focused Fools track the latest nanotech breakthroughs in our Motley Fool Rule Breakers newsletter service. See what they've discovered with a free 30-day trial subscription.

Fool contributor Jack Uldrich is the author of two books on nanotechnology, including Investing in Nanotechnology: Think Small, Win Big. He owns stock in Intel -- an Inside Value pick -- and IBM. The Fool's disclosure policy likes fish and chips with plenty of vinegar.

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