IBM's new 5nm architecture crams 30 billion transistors onto fingernail-sized chip

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United States technology giant IBM said Monday that it has developed a groundbreaking transistor manufacturing process for 5 nanometer (nm) semiconductor chips. Still, it should enable chips with 30 billion transistors, the on-off switches of electronic devices, on a fingernail-sized chip. Unfortunately the "Nanosheet" technology manufacturing process hasn't been fully detailed; we will have to wait until the 2017 Symposia on VLSI Technology and Circuits conference in Kyoto, Japan for that.

While the team etched the chip using the same extreme ultraviolet lithography (EUV) used for the breakthrough 7nm chip, it ditched the common FinFET (fin field effect) transistor design in favor of stacks of silicon nanosheets.

The new chip, a follow-up to IBM's 7 nm chip developed in July 2015, will carry 30 billion transistors on a chip the size of a fingernail, the company said.

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"Today's announcement continues the public-private model collaboration with IBM that is energizing SUNY-Polytechnic's, Albany's, and New York State's leadership and innovation in developing next generation technologies", said Dr. Bahgat Sammakia, Interim President, SUNY Polytechnic Institute. In some background information to the development, we are told that IBM has been exploring nanosheet semiconductor technology for more than 10 years. That being said, it's going to be a while before devices with 5nm chips hit the market.

The company claims that the 5nm chip achieves 40 percent performance boost, or 75 percent power efficiency with the same performance when compared with the current-generation 10nm chips.

The power savings may also enable batteries in smartphones and other devices to last up to three times longer than they do right now.

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IBM sees the technique helping its own cognitive computing efforts as well as the Internet of Things and other "data-intensive" tasks. Therefore, while FinFET chips can scale to 5nm, simply reducing the amount of space between fins does not provide increased current flow for additional performance. This permits the performance and power of specific circuits to be fine tuned - something not possible with FinFETs. This work is the first in the industry to demonstrate the feasibility to design and fabricate stacked nanosheet devices with electrical properties superior to FinFET architecture. "This transistor structure will enable a path to true five nanometers".

Chip-makers are looking to EUV lithography to stave off the death of Moore's Law.

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