IBM has created a fully functional version of the most powerful computer chip yet, Ars Technica reports.
The chip has transistor gates that are only 7 nanometres (nm) wide. To give an idea of how small that is, a strand of DNA is about 2.5 nanometres in diameter.
The lowered nanometre count is a big deal as in general a smaller “nm” number, means manufacturers can fit more transistors, which are tiny switches that act as the building blocks of processors, onto the chip thus increasing its power and performance.
This is because the transistors manage the flow of electricity on a chip by switching the current every few seconds, a practice that becomes more efficient as the number of transistors increases.
Right now, the wider industry is making the transition from manufacturing 14nm chips to 10nm chips.
IBM claimed it was able to increase the number of transistors using an alloy called Silicon Germanium rather than pure silicon used as the base of most chips. IBM claims the new material further improves the new super chip’s performance by letting the transistors switch faster and use less power.
Creating next-generation non-silicon chips has been an ongoing project for IBM. The tech giant announced plans to invest $US3 billion over the next five years to develop alternative chip technologies in July 2014.
IBM’s claims the combination of breakthroughs could lead to a 50% boost to performance and power over the chips that are currently being manufactured, keeping Moore’s Law alive for the time being.
Moore’s law was developed back in 1965 when Gordon Moore, who would eventually founded Intel, observed that the number of transistors on an integrated circuit chip was doubling every two years. He expected this trend — which meant that computer power effectively doubled every two years — to continue. But more recently, we have started to reach the limit of how small computer chips can be. Previous attempts to make a 7nm chip haven’t been efficient enough and have needed too much power to run, the New York Times points out.
IBM conducted the research project with help from local chip-making plant owned by GlobalFoundies, and with Samsung and the State University of New York.
The new chips are still in a test phase, but the Ars Technica report notes that the company plans to produce them commercially at a later date. Intel, TSMC, GlobalFoundries, and Samsung and currently producing 10 nanometre chips for commercial use, so it is much too early to guess when IBM’s lates discovery could hit mass production.