IBM Claims 5nm Nanosheet Breakthrough

IBM Claims 5nm Nanosheet Breakthrough

The research will enable fingernail-sized chips with 30 billion transistors - the on-off switches of electronic devices.

IBM today announced that it has developed an industry-first process with partners Samsung and Globalfoundries to manufacture silicon nanosheet transistors for 5 nanometer chips.

Though the company is yet to provide more details, the transistors, though still a prototype, are expected to further accelerate the pace of development of cognitive computing, the Internet of Things (IoT), and other data-intensive applications.

"Using EUV lithography, the width of the nanosheets can be adjusted continuously, all within a single manufacturing process or chip design", IBM and the other firms said. That being said, it's going to be a while before devices with 5nm chips hit the market. "Beyond the usual power, performance, and density improvement from moving to smaller transistors, the 5nm IBM chip is notable for being one of the first to use horizontal gate-all-around (GAA) transistors, and the first real use of extreme ultraviolet (EUV) lithography". The test chip was also built using EUV - an important step for the technology, given the difficulties we've seen with ramping EUV production overall. If you wanted to optimize for power savings, alternatively, you could create chips with the same performance level as todays 10nm units, but with a 75 percent reduction in how much power is needed to achieve that performance.

Although FinFET processes can also be scaled down to 5nm, reducing the space between the fins doesn't increase the current flow for additional performance.

"This is the first time we've built transistors for 5nm technology, and we know that transistor scaling has been extremely hard", Dr. Mukesh Khare, president of Semiconductor Research at IBM Research, told eWEEK.

Using the latest FinFET technology, Samsung past year began producing 10-nanometer chips for new electronic devices, including its own Galaxy S8 smartphone, which was launched in April.

IBM says the smaller chips will mean "a significant boost to meeting the future demands of artificial intelligence (AI) systems, virtual reality and mobile devices".

IBM's newest process was discovered by its Research Alliance which includes Samsung and GlobalFoundries.

Who said Moore's Law was dead?

Meanwhile, IBM and its partners expect to begin commercializing their 7-nanometer chip technology in 2018. That technology would deliver 20 billion transistors on a chip, while this new nanosheet approach would increase that to 30 billion.

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