IBM’s 9nm Carbon Nanotube Transistor Outperforms Silicon

IBM have created a nine nanometre carbon nanotube transistor that may extend the life of Moore’s Law

IBM has developed a 9 nanometre carbon nanotube transistor (CNT) – the smallest ever produced and one that can beat the size and electrical limitations of silicon transistors.

At 9nm, IBM’s transistor occupies a realm beyond the 11nm constraints imposed by silicon. More significantly, the power consumption of the CNT is lower – it is capable of switching at very low voltages (0.5V) – and is capable of carrying four times as much current according to Extreme Tech.

Breaking the law

These findings strongly indicate that silicon transistors may eventually be replaced. The better signal, more powerful connections and smaller size all suggest that IBM’s transistor may be the key to developing powerful new processors that can prevent the inevitable slowing of Moore’s Law (which suggests a continuous doubling of silicon performance).

Carbon nanotubes and graphene have long been touted as potential replacements for silicon, which is arguably in the final stages of its life as the dominant material in electronics.  However, the expense of mass producing nanotubes and the dominance of silicon in electronics presents a monumental challenge for the former.

“If nanotubes can’t go much further than silicon, then working on them is a waste of time,” said Aaron Franklin, a researcher at IBM Watson Research Center, New York, speaking to MIT’s Technology Review. “We’ve made nanotube transistors at aggressively scaled dimensions, and shown they are tremendously better than the best silicon devices.”

Consequently, the most interested party in IBM’s revelation will likely be Intel, whose Trigate transistor architecture, utilising 3D structures in silicon, was announced last year to extend the material’s usefulness. With IBM’s breakthrough, there will be hard questions for Intel to answer if it is to retain its transistor supremacy.