A new technique for building computer chips on a molecular scale could work with existing microelectronic systems and lead to faster, more energy efficient computers, Hewlett-Packard Co. researchers said Tuesday.

The company said it has developed a way of building computer chips that are eight times denser than integrated circuits currently being produced and use less energy.

Moreover, HP said the new chip technology could be layered on top of existing metal oxide silicon chips already in production, allowing for more transistors on a single chip.

The new technique makes use of nanotechnology — the science of building atom-sized parts — to construct and arrange tiny silicon nanowires.

The nanowires are arranged like a crossbar switch, a common crisscross architecture found in integrated circuits called field programmable gate arrays.

These circuits are prized in communications, automotive and consumer electronics because their components can be programmed and reprogrammed to perform different tasks.

Because of their small size, chips built with nanowires have a high defect rate, the researchers said. But the crossbar connections allow programmers to route around defects, allowing even a chip with 20 per cent of its nanowires broken to produce at 75 per cent efficiency.

The lab hopes a prototype chip using 15-nanometre crossbar wires will be made within a year and hopes to produce the chips by 2010.

Computer researchers have been searching for a method of creating silicon wires just nanometres thick to greatly reduce the size and increase the power of chips.

They are also under pressure to keep alive the popular formulation of Moore's Law, which says that computer chip power should double every 18 months.

"As conventional chip electronics continue to shrink, Moore's Law is on a collision course with the laws of physics," said Stan Williams, a researcher with HP Labs.

"Excessive heating and defective device operation arise at the nanoscale. What we've been able to do is combine conventional [chip] technology with nanoscale switching devices in a hybrid circuit to increase effective transistor density, reduce power dissipation, and dramatically improve tolerance to defective devices."

The technology, which they call Field-Programmable Nanowire Interconnect, is featured in the Jan. 24 issue of Nanotechnology, a publication of the British Institute of Physics.

With files from the Associated Press