Every generation of computer chips has gotten faster and more energy efficient over the years as their most basic building blocks, called transistors, have shrunk.
Although the rate of advancement has slowed, International Business Machines Corp said on Thursday that silicon still has at least one more generational advance ahead of it.
IBM announced the world’s first 2-nanometer chip manufacturing technology. According to the firm, the technology could be 45 percent faster and 75 percent more energy efficient than current 7-nanometer chips used in many laptops and phones.
It would most likely take many years for the technology to reach the market. IBM, which used to be a major chip producer, now outsources its high-volume chip production to Samsung Electronics Co Ltd, but it still has a chip manufacturing research centre in Albany, New York, where it produces test runs of chips and has joint technology development deals with Samsung and Intel Corp to use IBM’s chipmaking technology.
The 2-nanometer chips will be smaller and quicker than today’s cutting-edge 5-nanometer chips, which are only now appearing in flagship smartphones such as Apple Inc.’s iPhone 12 models, and the 3-nanometer chips that will follow 5-nanometer.
The transistor, which functions like an electrical on-off switch to shape the 1s and 0s of binary digits at the base of all modern computing, is the technology IBM demonstrated on Thursday.
Making the switches very small makes them quicker and more energy efficient, but it also causes issues of electrons leaking while the switches are meant to be off. In an interview with Reuters, Daro Gil, senior vice president and director of IBM Research, said that scientists were able to avoid leaks by drapeing sheets of insulating material just a few nanometers thick.
“Finally, there are transistors, and all else (in computing) is dependent on whether or not those transistors improve. And there’s no guarantee that transistors can improve from generation to generation any longer. But any time we get a chance to suggest there will be another, it’s a huge deal “Gil remarked.
Daro Gil, SVP and director of IBM Research, said, “The IBM breakthrough embodied in this new 2 nm chip is important to the entire semiconductor and IT industry.”
“It is the product of IBM’s approach to tackling hard tech problems, and it is a demonstration of how continuous investments and a collaborative R&D ecosystem approach can lead to breakthroughs.”
Despite the fact that IBM exited the semiconductor industry in 2014, its research and development division has been pursuing chip innovation since then. IBM Research has a strong track record in this field, having been the first to introduce 7nm and 5nm process technologies, as well as other computing breakthroughs.
According to IBM, the 2nm design demonstrates advanced semiconductor scaling using the company’s nanosheet technology, which was a new form of transistor developed after the company’s 5nm chip breakthrough in 2017.
The 2nm chip would be able to fit up to 50 billion transistors on a chip the size of a fingernail thanks to this design. With more transistors, designers would have more options for incorporating core-level technologies to boost capability for workloads like artificial intelligence (AI) or cloud computing.