IBM has just announced that it has created working versions of ultradense computer chips, with approximately four times the capacity of today’s most powerful silicon chips. IBM is partnering with New York State, GlobalFoundries, Samsung, and equipment vendors for this initiative.
The consortium has produced the world’s first functional 7nm node test chips, which has resulted from shrinking the fundamental transistors that make up chips. To put this into context, a strand of DNA measures 2.5 nanometers in diameter. The best central processing units (CPUs) today utilize a 14nm process. All of this means that smaller, faster processors will be available to meet the demands of cloud computing and Big Data systems.
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To make the 7nm chips, the team replaced pure silicon with a silicon-germanium (SiGe) alloy for the channel transistors, in order to better electron mobility at that minuscule scale. Additionally, Extreme Ultraviolet (EUV) lithography was used to etch microscopic patterns into each chip. This new material makes it possible to achieve faster transistor switching as well as lower power requirements.
Moore’s Law suggests the number of transistors per square inch on chips should double every two years. This law has been questioned recently, as technologists wondered whether innovation could continue past the current 14nm generation of chips. These new 7nm chips suggest that semiconductor technology will continue to shrink at least through 2018. IBM has said that it could be possible to build microprocessors with more than 20 billion transistors.
Today’s announcement is huge for IBM. It was thought that the days of computer and semiconductor manufacturing capacity may have been behind the company, but IBM has shown that it is still a player in technology manufacturing.
Read more: IBM: Future Computer Chips Will Be Smaller, Cheaper