IBM Research and partners GlobalFoundries and Samsung have created transistors for a 5-nanometer semiconductor chip.
It’s a remarkable technical achievement, though a commercial version of the chip may not be possible for a while. Still, it should enable chips with 30 billion transistors, the on-off switches of electronic devices, on a fingernail-sized chip. Researchers say this kind of achievement should enable the $330 billion chip industry to stay on the path of Moore’s Law, or the prediction made in 1965 by Intel chairman emeritus Gordon Moore that the number of transistors on a chip would double every couple of years.
IBM is presenting details of its research on its “silicon nanosheet transistors” at the 2017 Symposia on VLSI Technology and Circuits conference in Kyoto, Japan. The development comes less than two years after IBM researchers made a 7-nanometer test node chip with 20 billion transistors. (A nanometer is a billionth of a meter, and a 5-nanometer device is just a few atoms thick.)
Right now, the most advanced semiconductor chips use a FinFET process with circuitry that is 10 nanometers in width. Companies such as Intel can build chips with 10 or 15 billion transistors using that process.
A 5-nanometer chip could perform about 40 percent faster than a 10-nanometer chip, given the same power settings, said Mukesh Khare, vice president of semiconductor technology research at IBM Research, in an interview with VentureBeat. Or a chip could be 75 percent more power efficient.
“This is a major innovation for scaling beyond 7 nanometers,” Khare said. “It’s an innovation in design and how you pack more and more transistors together. This transistor structure will enable a path to true five nanometers.”