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July 9, 2015

IBM pushes past silicon with world’s first 7nm chip

Tiny, powerful chips for future cloud computing and Big Data systems.

By Ellie Burns

The first 7nm node test chips with functioning transistors have hit the semiconductor industry today, with IBM Research revealing the breakthrough in partnership with GLOBALFOUNDRIES and SUNY Poly CNSE.

The implications of this breakthrough are far reaching and could result in the ability to place more than 20 billion tiny switches on the fingernail-sized chips that power everything from smartphones to spacecrafts.

Many experts believe that 7nm technology will be crucial in realising the potential of future cloud computing and Big Data systems, cognitive computing, mobile products and other emerging technologies.

The techniques developed by the team of researchers resulted in at least a 50% power/performance improvement for next generation mainframe and POWER systems that will power the Big Data, cloud and mobile era.

In order to achieve the benefits promised by 7nm technology, which include lower power, higher performance, researchers had to bypass conventional manufacturing approaches.

Among the novel processes and industry-first techniques used was Silicon Germanium (SiGe) channel transistors and Extreme Ultraviolet (EUV) lithography integration at multiple levels.

Part of IBM’s $3 billion, five-year investment in chip R&D (announced in 2014), this accomplishment was made possible through a unique public-private partnership with New York State and joint development alliance with GLOBALFOUNDRIES, Samsung, and equipment suppliers. The team is based at SUNY Poly’s NanoTech Complex in Albany.

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"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."

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