IBM creates a new transistor type for 5nm silicon chips

IBM Research has created a new type of transistor for chips that enable 5nm construction, the smallest ever for a silicon processor. This new method, created in tandem with research partners GLOBALFOUNDRIES and Samsung, changes some basic things about how chips are put together, and helps break a barrier with the previous process that essentially signaled the end of Moore’s Law.

This new process created by IBM will make it possible for engineers to put as many as 30 billion transistors on a chip the size of a single human fingernail, using a new process called gate-all-around (GAA) transistors, which uses horizontal layers of stacked silicon to enable a fourth “gate” on transistors on the chip.

For practical purposes, this is important because it helps enable a 40 percent performance improvement over current 10nm chip designs — but using the same amount of power. If you wanted to optimize for power savings, alternatively, you could create chips with the same performance level as today’s 10nm units, but with a 75 percent reduction in how much power is needed to achieve that performance.

Before you get too excited, however, remember that these things take time to move beyond the research stage; 10 to 15 years between original breakthrough and market proliferation, by IBM’s own admission. Still, it definitely gives us something to look forward to, especially when it comes to powerful, local, mobile computing.