IBM has unveiled working versions of ultra-dense computer chips with the smallest components to date and four times the capacity of the most powerful products currently on the market.
As part of a consortium including researchers from SUNY Polytechnic Institute’s Colleges of Nanotech Science + Engineering and Samsung, the computer giant revealed it could now create semiconductors with parts just seven nanometers wide, or 1,000 times smaller than a red blood cell, according to BBC News reports.
Currently, the smallest parts on chips are roughly 14 nanometers big, and the New York Times noted that the breakthrough would enable IBM to build microprocessors that had more than 20 billion transistors. Thus far, the chips have only been created in the lab, but IBM said they’re working on ways to replicate the process in manufacturing centers.
This advance was made by replacing the pure silicon typically used in key regions of the molecular-size switches with silicon-germanium, enabling faster transistor switching and reduced power requirements. IBM said it expects to start using these 7 nanometer chips in computers by 2018.
Breakthrough allows Moore’s Law to continue
IBM’s announcement means that Moore’s Law, the so-called “golden rule” of technology, would be able to continue through another generation, despite concerns that technical issues would keep transition density from continuing to double every two years as has long been the case.
This phenomenon was first observed by Intel co-founder Gordon Moore, who back in 1965 made a prediction that computing would continue to dramatically increase in power and decrease in cost exponentially on a regular basis. While IBM’s work allows the trend to continue, reports indicate that future advances will require new materials and manufacturing techniques.
“The implications of our achievement are huge for the computer industry,” Mukesh Khare, VP, IBM Semiconductor Technology Research, wrote in a blog post. “By making the chips inside computers more powerful and more efficient, IBM and our partners will be able to produce the next generations of servers and storage systems for cloud computing, big data analytics, and cognitive computing.”
“In recent years, the chip industry has struggled to sustain a torrid pace of semiconductor innovation,” he added. “With this feat… we’re extending the life of the silicon semiconductor, one of the most important inventions of the 20th century… These advances represent the most significant chip-industry design and manufacturing innovations in nearly a decade.”