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Texas Instruments will announce Tuesday that it has developed the technology to build a thumbnail-sized computer chip with the processing power of 20 personal computers.

The new semiconductor technology will enable engineers to build much more powerful and complex consumer electronics and other devices such as videophones and voice recognition systems. Early applications include telecommunications and wireless communications.Called "TImeline technology" to advertise the company's initials, it's capable of building computer chips with electrical connections as thin as 0.18 microns wide. It will be possible to pack 125 million transistors on to a single silicon chip - more than double the number possible with current 0.25 micron processes.

Semiconductor devices with measurements as small as 0.18 microns are 600 times smaller than the diameter of a human hair.

"This dramatic order of magnitude increase in transistor availability will create a new systems and applications domain which will revolutionise the electronics industry," said Rich Templeton, senior vice president of TI's semiconductor group.

"Today's most complex chips range from five (million) to seven million transistors. This dramatic increase in transistor count will create systems and applications that we have not even started to imagine," Templeton said.

TI recently announced plans to build a $2 billion semiconductor facility in Dallas which will manufacture the new chips from 1997.

The technology will allow TI to put computer microprocessors, memory and other special functions on to a single silicon chip, reducing the number of semiconductors required for consumer electronics by as much as 90 percent.

Most electronic systems today are built using many semi-conductor chips wired together on a printed circuit board. But when information passes from one chip to another, it is slowed down and generates heat and electrical "noise" or interference.

Putting 125 million transistors on a single chip means using fewer chips, making them faster and quieter while reducing power consumption. Mixing different types of electronic device on one chip will provide more flexibility and faster development times.

For consumers, it will mean lighter and more powerful digital telephones and portable computers with significantly longer battery lives. Similarly, there are some tasks such as image recognition which require vast amounts of computing power. Normally, these systems are only found in expensive manufacturing robotics systems.

But with the advent of 125 million transistors on a single chip, computers that recognize speech could become consumer items.

(Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service.)