IBM 'Thinks' Big, Invests $3 Billion In Chip Research And Develoment
July 10, 2014

IBM ‘Thinks’ Big, Invests $3 Billion In Chip Research And Develoment

Peter Suciu for - Your Universe Online

IBM has been around for more than a 100 years and it has redefined its business many times to meet changing demand for its products. While the company also known as Big Blue touted its motto "Think" as it lead the desktop PC in the late 1970s and throughout the 1980s the company now finds itself at a crossroads.

On Wednesday, a week before its second quarterly earnings will be released, IBM announced it is spending $3 billion over the next five years as part of an investment into chip research and development. The tech giant is hoping to find a game-changing breakthrough that could revive its sluggish hardware unit. Last quarter IBM reported a 23-percent plunge for sales in its hardware sector from a year earlier, and the company posted its lowest quarterly revenue in five years.

IBM will now invest in broad research and early stage development programs, which could push the limits of chip technology that may be needed to meet the emerging demands of cloud computing and Big Data systems.

The first of the newly announced research and development programs is aimed at so-called "7 nanometer and beyond" silicon technology, and is aimed at addressing the very serious physical challenges that are threatening current semiconductor scaling techniques.

"The question is not if we will introduce 7 nanometer technology into manufacturing, but rather how, when, and at what cost?" said John Kelly, senior vice president, IBM Research, via a statement. "IBM engineers and scientists, along with our partners, are well suited for this challenge and are already working on the materials science and device engineering required to meet the demands of the emerging system requirements for cloud, big data, and cognitive systems. This new investment will ensure that we produce the necessary innovations to meet these challenges."

"Scaling to 7nm and below is a terrific challenge, calling for deep physics competencies in processing nano materials affinities and characteristics. IBM is one of a very few companies who has repeatedly demonstrated this level of science and engineering expertise," added Richard Doherty, technology research director, The Envisioneering Group.

The second program is focused on developing alternative technologies for post-silicon era chips using entirely different approaches, which IBM scientists and other experts believe would be required because of the physical limitations of silicon-based semiconductors. IBM has noted that virtually all electronic equipment today is built on complementary metal–oxide–semiconductor (CMOS) technology. As a result there remains an urgent need for new materials and circuit architecture designs compatible with the new engineering processes as the technology industry nears physical scalability limits of the silicon transistor.

The goal of these programs is to find new ways to scale and shrink silicon chips, which could make these more efficient. One of the problems with silicon chips is that most of the electricity that travels through these are released as heat, with only 30 percent actually going toward electricity.

In addition, IBM announced that it will research new materials to use in the making of chips to solve that problem. These materials could include carbon nanotubes, which could be more stable than the currently used silicon. These new materials could also be more heat resistant and could provide faster connections as well.

"You might say this is not a good time to be in the silicon chip business, but it is a great time to be ready for the next thing. This is the next thing," Doherty told Reuters via The Guardian. "IBM is the only major company investing in carbon chip research. As demand grows for faster speeds, the investment could put it miles ahead of competitors like Oracle and HP."

The teams behind these projects will include IBM Research scientists and engineers from Albany and Yorktown, New York; Almaden, California; and Europe.


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