IBM reveals breakthrough computer chip technology

Posted on 10 Jul 2015 by Michael Cruickshank

Computing research and manufacturing company IBM has today revealed new advances enabling the production of a new and more powerful computer chip.

IBM Research has built the industry’s first ever chips which feature 7 nanometer (nm) nodes and functioning transistors.

The company worked together with partners Samsung and GlobalFoundries in order to develop this technology. The chips themselves represent the fruition of a 5 year and $3bn investment into research by IBM.

When fully realised, IBM believes that the technology could result in the ability for manufacturers to cram 20 billion transistors on a computer chip no larger than a fingernail.

To build these breakthrough new chips, IBM needed to move away from traditional chip manufacturing approaches. Rather than use purely silicon construction, the new 7nm chips make use of new techniques including Silicon Germanium (SiGe) channel transistors and Extreme Ultraviolet (EUV) lithography.

IBM believes that these new chips will go on to power the next generation of computing devices.

“For business and society to get the most out of tomorrow’s computers and devices, scaling to 7nm and beyond is essential,” said Arvind Krishna, senior vice president and director of IBM Research.

Currently, most chipsets on the market make use of 22nm or 14nm construction, while a new generation of 10nm chips are due to hit the market in 2017.

If current research and development trends are used a guide, IBM’s new 7nm technology will begin to be integrated into mass market chips by the end of the decade.

The limits of Moore’s Law

Within the semiconductor industry, the development of new chips has long been dictated by Moore’s Law, a pattern that stipulates that the number of transistors which can fit on to a piece of circuit space doubles roughly every two years.

Despite holding true for many decades, this doubling rate has begun to slow down. A number of physical constrains at the nano-scale mean there are limits to how small silicon chip transistors can be built.

While IBM’s move away from silicon on the 7nm chips has enabled Moore’s Law to continue for at least one more iteration, it is likely that in the near future, entirely new forms of computing will be required to advance processing power.