IBM Research creates a groundbreaking 5-nanometer chip

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The details of the process will be presented at the 2017 Symposia on VLSI Technology and Circuits conference in Kyoto, Japan.

IBM, GlobalFoundries, and Samsung said Monday that they have found a way to make thinner transistors, which should enable them to pack 30 billion switches onto a microprocessor chip the size of a fingernail.

Chip-makers are looking to EUV lithography to stave off the death of Moore's Law.

Pictured: a scan of IBM Research Alliance's 5nm transistor, built using an industry-first process to stack silicon nanosheets as the device structure - achieving a scale of 30 billion switches on a fingernail-sized chip that will deliver significant power and performance enhancements over today's state-of-the-art 10nm chips. It will also help accelerate the pace of development of cognitive computing, the Internet of Things (IoT), and other data-intensive applications as well.

Through an official blog post, IBM Research today announced that it has developed industry-first silicon nanosheet transistors for the development of 5-nanometer chips. This provides a 40% performance boost at fixed power over current 10nm FinFET devices, or a 75% power saving for the same performance.

The transistors are built with Extreme Ultraviolet (EUV) lithography, which is used to stencil the circuit designs on chips.

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The most-advanced semiconductor chips at the moment use a FinFET process technology with circuitry that is 10 nm in width.

Rather than use current FinFET or "fin field-effect transistor" architecture, IBM has been exploring stacked nanosheet transistors, aided by a technique that allows it to adjust the chip's design for improved power and performance in ways that FinFET can't.

The power savings may also enable batteries in smartphones and other devices to last up to three times longer than they do right now. It means fitting more in less space, and it's measured in nanometers. "The new transistors will enable [the chip industry] to continue scaling and generate the economic value Moore's Law has predicted".

As Mukesh Khare, vice president of semiconductor technology research at IBM Research explains, the industry is racing to move beyond FinFET design because it doesn't scale anymore.

"This announcement is the latest example of the world-class research that continues to emerge from our groundbreaking public-private partnership in NY", said Gary Patton, CTO and Head of Worldwide R&D at Globalfoundries.