IBM Claims ‘Thinnest Ever’ 7nm Chip Could Transform Computing World

Super-thin, ultra-dense chip should offer increased power and flexibility to phones and computers everywhere

IBM has announced a major breakthrough in developing the future of mobile and computing devices with the reveal of a new ultra-slim chip.

The computing giant has revealed that its research division has successfully produced test chips containing transistors measuring 7nm across – the thinnest ever made using this technology.

The breakthrough to one of the computing industry’s biggest current challenges should lead to slimmer, more powerful devices, as IBM says the new chips feature up to four times the capacity of today’s most powerful chips, meaning it could soon be possible to build microprocessors with more than 20 billion transistors.

Step forward

IBM fab lab“These advances represent the most significant chip-industry design and manufacturing innovations in nearly a decade,” Mukesh Khare, vice president of IBM Semiconductor Technology Research, wrote in a blog post announcing the news.

The output is the first result of a $3 billion (£1.95bn) IBM investment in New York’s Hudson Valley, where it has worked with GlobalFoundries and Samsung, among others, at the SUNY Polytechnic Institute’s College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering in New York to produce the chips.

“With this feat by the alliance, we’re extending the life of the silicon semiconductor, one of the most important inventions of the 20th century, which has come to symbolize the seemingly inevitable march of technological progress–the ability to make all sorts of computers and electronic devices faster, smaller and more energy efficient,” Khare added.

IBM says the advance was made possible by using silicon-germanium instead of pure silicon in key regions of the molecular-size switches, making transistor switching faster and meaning the chips need less power.

However the company is not revealing when it thinks the 7nm technology will be commercially available.

Many of today’s leading smartphones use processors containing 14nm technology, with major manufacturers such as Qualcomm, Nvidia and MediaTek all looking for ways to implement slimmer technology into their devices, with several implanting 10nm chips already this year.

Forutnately, GlobalFoundries is currrenly signed up to make chips for companies including Broadcom, Qualcomm and Advanced Micro Devices (AMD).

In comparison, a strand of human DNA measures around 2.5 nanometres across, and a red blood cell roughly 7,500 nanometres in diameter.

Today’s news will be a welcome pick-up for IBM, which has been investing heavily in research and development opportunities so far in 2015.

This includes a $3 billion (£2bn) expansion of its Internet of Things (IoT) business as it looks to play a bigger role in helping organisations better interact with the world around them, aiming to build up a new IoT unit that is able to deal with the increasingly huge amounts of data being produced every day.

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