Researchers at IBM have run a silicon-based microprocessor at speeds of 500GHz, more than 250 times faster than a typical mobile phone chip.

The research shows that chip makers can reach high speeds with low-cost manufacturing techniques and commercial silicon-based chip technology, said John D Cressler, a professor at Georgia Tech's School of Electrical and Computer Engineering.

The research, announced today by IBM, could also lead to more efficient chips, opening up new markets. Running at extremely high speeds, these chips could now find new applications in commercial communications systems, defence electronics, space exploration and remote sensing, according to IBM.

A team of scientists from IBM and Georgia Tech used an old hacker's technique to avoid melting the chip at such high speeds.

Extreme video gamers chill their chips with refrigerated mineral oil stored in the garage, but this team was able to make the chip much colder.

First, the researchers built a prototype SiGe (silicon-germanium) chip that ran at 350GHz at room temperature. IBM has been mixing germanium with silicon since 1998, using the mixture to make chips for mobile phones and other mobile devices that demand reduced power consumption.

Then they used liquid helium to freeze their microprocessor to 451 degrees below zero fahrenheit. Nature's coldest temperature, known as absolute zero, is just a few degrees lower, at minus 459.67 degrees fahrenheit. With no risk of melting the chip, they pushed it to 500GHz.

By contrast, the latest commercial dual-core server chips from Intel and AMD run at speeds between 2.5GHz and 3.5GHz.

The researchers now plan to return to their lab and find a way to push the chip even faster. IBM's computer simulations show that their chip could reach speeds of 1,000GHz, known as 1 terahertz.