IBM Researchers Unveil 5-Nanometer Semiconductor Chip

As the latest 10-nanometer processors that can pack far more transistors into a tiny space begin appearing in more electronic devices, IBM and its partners are already envisioning an even more advanced chip: a 5-nanometer processor that could contain as many as 30 billion transistors.

Researchers with IBM, GlobalFoundries, Samsung, and the SUNY Polytechnic Institute Colleges of Nanoscale Science and Engineering have developed a new process that could produce 5-nanometer chips using silicon nanosheet transistors. They said the innovation could speed up applications for cognitive computing, the Internet of Things and cloud-based data processing.

Details about the new process are set to be presented at the 2017 Symposia on VLSI Technology and Circuits that kicked off today in Kyoto. Five-nanometer processors could also make smartphones and other mobile devices last far longer on a single battery charge -- perhaps as much as two to three times longer, according to IBM.

Switches the Width of 2-3 Strands of DNA

The most efficient silicon chips today are manufacturing using a technology called FinFET (fin field effect transistor) that uses thin, vertical silicon "fins" to improve electrical control in transistors. The technology, which helps minimize the usual performance-versus-power tradeoffs of processor manufacturing, is being used to produce today's most advanced 10-nanometer chips for electronic devices.

By contrast, IBM and its research partners have developed a new process to build transistors by layering silicon nanosheets in horizontal stacks. The process provides an additional, fourth horizontal "gate" for transmitting electrical signals on a transistor.

"At these dimensions, it means that those signals are passing through a switch that's no larger than the width of two to three DNA strands, side-by-side," Huiming Bu, IBM's director of silicon integration and device research, wrote today in a blog post. "More ways to send a signal on more 5nm transistors...

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