13th July 2015
7 nanometre chips enable Moore's Law to continue
Researchers have announced a breakthrough in the manufacture of 7 nanometre (nm) computer chips, enabling the trend of Moore's Law to continue for the next few years.
IBM Research has announced the semiconductor industry's first 7nm (nanometre) node test chips with functioning transistors. The breakthrough was accomplished in partnership with GLOBALFOUNDRIES and Samsung at SUNY Polytechnic Institute's Colleges of Nanoscale Science and Engineering (SUNY Poly CNSE) and could result in the ability to place more than 20 billion tiny switches – transistors – on the fingernail-sized chips that power everything from smartphones to spacecraft.
To achieve the higher performance, lower power and scaling benefits promised by 7nm technology, researchers had to bypass conventional semiconductor manufacturing approaches. Among the novel processes and techniques pioneered in this collaboration were a number of industry-first innovations, most notably Silicon Germanium (SiGe) channel transistors and Extreme Ultraviolet (EUV) lithography integration at multiple levels.
Industry experts consider 7nm technology crucial to meeting the anticipated demands of future cloud computing and Big Data systems, cognitive computing, mobile products and other emerging "exponential" technologies. This accomplishment was part of IBM's $3 billion, five-year investment in chip R&D announced last year.
"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."
Microprocessors utilising 22nm and 14nm technology power today's servers, cloud data centres and mobile devices, and 10nm technology is well on the way to becoming a mature technology. The IBM Research-led alliance achieved close to 50 percent area scaling improvements over today's most advanced technology, introduced SiGe channel material for transistor performance enhancement at 7nm node geometries, process innovations to stack them below 30nm pitch and full integration of EUV lithography at multiple levels. These techniques and scaling could result in at least a 50 percent power/performance improvement for next generation systems that will power the Big Data, cloud and mobile era. These new 7nm chips are expected to start appearing in computers and other gadgets in 2017-18.