IBM, partners score 7 nm semiconductor breakthrough

IBM, Samsung and Globalfoundries claimed a 7nm semiconductor breakthrough

IBM, Samsung and Globalfoundries claimed a 7nm semiconductor breakthrough this week

Giving Moore’s Law a run for its money, IBM, Globalfoundries and Samsung claimed this week to have produced the industry’s first 7 nanometre node test chip with functioning transistors. The breakthrough suggests a massive jump in low-power computing power may be just on the horizon.

IBM worked with Globalfoundries, the chip division it divested in October last year, and Samsung specialists at the SUNY Polytechnic Institute’s Colleges of Nanoscale Science and Engineering (SUNY Poly CNSE) to test a number of silicon innovations developed by IBM researchers including Silicon Germanium (SiGe) channel transistors and Extreme Ultraviolet (EUV) lithography integration at multiple levels, techniques developed to accommodate the changing nature of the rules of physics that apply at such small scales.

Most microprocessors found in servers, desktops and laptops today are developed with 22nm and 14nm processes, and mobile processors are increasingly being developed with 10nm processors, but IBM claims the 7nm process developed by the semiconductor alliance enjoys 50 per cent area scaling improvements over today’s most advanced chips.

IBM said the move could result in the creation of a chip small and powerful enough to “power everything from smartphones to spacecraft.”

“For business and society to get the most out of tomorrow’s computers and devices, scaling to 7nm and beyond is essential,” said Arvind Krishna, senior vice president and director of IBM Research. “That’s why IBM has remained committed to an aggressive basic research agenda that continually pushes the limits of semiconductor technology. Working with our partners, this milestone builds on decades of research that has set the pace for the microelectronics industry, and positions us to advance our leadership for years to come.”

The companies also said the chips have a 50 per cent power-to-performance improvement over existing server chips, and could be used in future iterations of Power architecture, IBM’s mainframe architecture which it open sourced in a bid to improve its performance for cloud and big data workloads.

IBM has in recent months ramped up silicon-focused efforts. The company is partnering with SiCAD to offer a cloud-based high performance services for electronic design automation (EDA) which the companies said can be used to design silicon for smartphones, wearables and Internet of Things devices. Earlier this month the company also launched another OpenPower design centre in Europe to target development of high performance computing (HPC) apps based on the Power architecture.