The semiconductor industry is constantly challenged to develop microchips that are smaller, faster, more powerful, and energy efficient all at the same time.
IBM (IBM) announced on Thursday that it had produced a 2-nanometer chip, the smallest and most efficient microchip ever made.
The majority of computer chips in use today are 10-nanometer or 7-nanometer, with some manufacturers making 5-nanometer chips. Smaller, more sophisticated processors are indicated by lower numbers. IBM’s latest chip is built on a 2-nanometer process, which is a big step forward for components that power anything from smartphones and appliances to supercomputers and transportation equipment.
“There are not many technologies or technological breakthroughs that end up lifting all boats,” director of IBM Research Dario Gil said in an interview. “This is an example of one.”
Increasing the number of transistors — the key elements that process data — without increasing the chip’s overall size is one way to boost its efficiency. According to IBM vice president of hybrid cloud research Mukesh Khare, the latest 2-nanometer chips are about the size of a fingernail and contain 50 billion transistors, each about the size of two DNA strands.
With more transistors, more advances in artificial intelligence and encryption, among other things, will be able to be applied directly to the chips.
“When we experience that the phone gets better, the cars get better, the computers get better, it is because behind the scenes, the transistor got better and we have more transistors available in our chips,” Gil said.
The new chip is expected to outperform today’s most advanced 7-nanometer chips by 45 percent while using around 75 percent less energy. Cell phone batteries could last four times longer with 2-nanometer chips, laptops could be significantly faster, and data centers’ carbon footprints could be reduced as they use more energy efficient chips.
The 2-nanometer chips are scheduled to hit the market in late 2024 or early 2025, which isn’t soon enough to alleviate the ongoing global chip shortage.
When it comes to semiconductors, IBM isn’t usually the first company that comes to mind. Unlike Intel (INTC) and Samsung (SSNLF), the computing behemoth does not manufacture chips on a large scale. Instead, IBM will sell licenses to chipmakers for its 2-nanometer processor technology.
IBM’s research into the new chip will also help the company in the development of potential tech devices that use 2-nanometer chips.
After years of decline in the United States’ position in the global semiconductor industry, the Biden administration is considering investing $50 billion to grow domestic chip research, production, and manufacturing.
“The intent … is to ensure we have leadership in semiconductor technology in the country,” Gil said. “This is proof that we do have that leadership capability in the country, with the 2-nanometer announcement, but people are not standing still. We need to push forward.”