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IBM Develops Ultra-Fast 7-Nanometer Chip Technology

IBM Develops Ultra-Fast 7-Nanometer Chip Technology

by Giulio PriscoJuly 9, 2015

In a semiconductor technology breakthrough reported by several news sources in the last few hours, an alliance led by IBM Research has produced the first 7-nanometer node test chips with functional transistors.

The breakthrough, accomplished at SUNY Polytechnic Institute’s Colleges of Nanoscale Science and Engineering (SUNY Poly CNSE), could result in the ability to develop fingernail-sized chips with more than 20 billion transistors, about four times the capacity of today’s most powerful chips.

The images show Dr. Michael Liehr (left) of SUNY Poly CNSE and Bala Haran (right) of IBM Research inspecting a wafer comprised of 7nm (nanometer) node test chips in a clean room in Albany, and a close up of IBM 7-nanometer node test chip produced at SUNY Poly CNSE.

Extending Moore’s Law With Extreme Ultraviolet Lithography and Silicon-Germanium

IBM 7-nanometerThe New York Times reports that the development is part of an effort to manufacture the most advanced computer chips in New York’s Hudson Valley, where IBM is investing $3 billion in a private-public partnership with New York State, GlobalFoundries, Samsung and equipment vendors.

The development of 7-nanometer transistors will permit the semiconductor industry to continue the trend toward increasing miniaturization and performance of computing chips known as Moore’s Law. However, the IBM test chips are experimental devices not ready for commercial exploitation. The advance to 7 nanometers, about the width of a few strands of DNA, was achieved by using extreme ultraviolet lithography and silicon-germanium, which permits faster transistor switching and lower power requirements, instead of pure silicon in key regions of the molecular-size switches.

The Wall Street Journal notes that IBM announced last year its plans to spend $3 billion on semiconductor research over the next five years, conducting that work mainly at facilities operated by the State University of New York in Albany. IBM collaborated on the latest developments with researchers there as well as GlobalFoundries and Samsung Electronics Co. Those companies for more than a decade have relied partly on such joint developments under an alliance called the Global Platform.

GlobalFoundries announced last week that it has completed its acquisition of IBM’s Microelectronics business. It appears that IBM plans to focus on semiconductor research and development, leaving manufacturing to its partners.

Mukesh Khare, IBM’s head of semiconductor research, told Quartz that the breakthrough didn’t come easily. “This announcement clarifies that staying on Moore’s Law is extremely difficult,” he said.

Khare indicated that we haven’t yet reached the smallest transistor possible. “We are able to demonstrate that the technology can be scaled to 7 nm,” he said. “Can we do 5 nanometer? Well, we’re gonna try.”

The [only] thing we can’t scale is an atom.

Images from IBM Research/Flickr.

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