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Maximum-likelihood (ML) detection for higher order multiple-input-multiple-output (MIMO) systems faces a major challenge in computational complexity. This limits the practicality of these systems from an implementation point of view, particularly for mobile battery-operated devices. In this paper, we propose a modified approach for MIMO detection, which takes advantage of the quadratic-amplitude modulation (QAM) constellation structure to accelerate the detection procedure. This approach achieves low-power operation by extending the minimum number of paths and reducing the number of required computations for each path extension, which results in an order-of-magnitude reduction in computations in comparison with existing algorithms. This paper also describes the very-large-scale integration (VLSI) design of the low-power path metric computation unit. The approach is applied to a 4times4, 64-QAM MIMO detector system. Results show negligible performance degradation compared with conventional algorithms while reducing the complexity by more than 50%.