This chip engraved in 2 nanometers should offer a performance gain of 45%
How far will semiconductors companies and chipmakers go in the frantic race for the infinitely small? IBM announced yesterday that it has created the world’s first chip engraved in 2 nanometers. It can contain 20 billion transistors on a processor the size of a fingernail. Meanwhile, Intel has been struggling to come out with a 7nm process.
Intel’s 7nm process was supposed to go online in 2021’s fourth quarter to help keep the company’s CPUs competitive. However, a defect in the manufacturing technology caused the company to delay its arrival to as far as 2023. This opened the door for rivals like IBM and AMD and even Apple to dominate in the chipmaking space for years to come.
To ensure the 7nm chips arrive on time, Intel is now considering hiring a third-party foundry to build the silicon. One likely candidate is TSMC, which is already building PC processors for AMD using its own 7nm node.
According to IBM, their new chip can either improve performance by 45% using the same amount of energy or reduce the energy used by 75% compared to chips engraved at 7 nm.
“This could quadruple the life of phone batteries, which would only need a single recharge every four days.” says the US manufacturer.
The chip will also increase the performance of devices, for example for instant translation or real-time detection of autonomous vehicles. Its reduced consumption could also benefit huge data centers, which already swallow up 1% of global electricity consumption. The most advanced generation of chips, like that of Apple’s iPhone 12 or Samsung’s Galaxy S21, relies on chips engraved in 5 nanometers made only by two founders; the South Korean Samsung and the Taiwanese TSMC.
“IBM’s announcement is therefore clearly the message that it is still capable of innovating in chips,” emphasizes Peter Rudden, research director at IDC. Not being a manufacturer itself, IBM will however grant the license to Samsung. Which will then integrate it into the next generations of its Power processor from 2024. To achieve such performance, IBM relied on a new technology breaking with the FinFet structure (“Fin Field Effect Transistor”, or fin field-effect transistor) currently in force.
To put it simply, the FinFet is based on a horizontal arrangement where the elements are stacked on the substrate. However, with this configuration, there is a capacitive effect (a kind of parasitic current) when the channels are brought too close to each other. IBM’s new chip, for its part, is based on a nano-sheet structure stacked on top of each other, thus offering flexibility of customization and a large choice of possible settings – an option highly sought after by the very diverse players in the industry. electronics sector.
The race for performance is far from over, however
TSMC announced in November 2020 2 nanometer chips operating at extreme ultraviolet (EUV). Allowing the integration of several circuits per gate. The Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory has been working for several years on a transistor etched in 1 nm. It is designed from a combination of molybdenum disulfide and carbon nanotubes, replacing good old silicon.