JOSE, Calif. — IBM has pulled ahead of its rival Intel
in the race to the microchip of the future with the
announcement this week of the tiniest transistors ever
made, but analysts say the competition has just begun.
technology developed at IBM’s Almaden Research Center
in San Jose and at New York laboratories in
collaboration with GlobalFoundries and Samsung, the
company’s scientists have created a "test"
chip with transistors 7 nanometers thick.
comparison, a strand of DNA is 2.5 nanometers in width
and a human hair is 80,000 to 100,000 nanometers wide.
announcement means that in all likelihood Moore’s Law,
which calls for the doubling of the number of
transistors on a chip every two years, will continue at
least through 2018.
generations of microprocessors are called
"nodes," and current manufacturing is largely
at the 14 and 22 nanometer nodes, with a 10 nanometer
node in the wings, while researchers try to figure out a
path to 7 nanometers.
headquartered in New York, is essentially declaring
"Eureka!" — it has found the path. But it
will be a while before the chips are manufactured in
quantities to power phones, computers and other
Clara-based Intel, considered the technological leader
of the industry, had no comment. But in earlier
interviews, its top technologists have said they are
working on a path to a 7 nanometer transistor.
might have these working in their labs, but they haven’t
shown anybody," said Richard Fichera, a
semiconductor analyst with Forrester Research.
called the IBM breakthrough "a smart use of
technology and partnerships."
is no guarantee that this is the best way to make 7
nanometer parts, but it says Intel should realize they
have somebody breathing down their neck," he said.
analyst Pat Moorhead, with Moor Insights and Strategy,
said, "This is all as much about marketing as it is
technology. But it’s good to see we have some concrete
proof that Moore’s Law keeps going and from a company
outside of Intel."
sold its chip manufacturing operations to
GlobalFoundries in a deal that closed last week. It
developed the test chip with that company, Samsung and
New York state. The team is based at the SUNY
Polytechnic Institute’s Colleges of Nanoscale Science
and Engineering. The research is part of a $3 billion,
five-year investment in chip research announced last
says it bypassed regular manufacturing techniques to
produce the new chip.
test chip is built on a platform of silicon, but on top
is a layer of silicon germanium, a material pioneered by
IBM years ago. The layer contains the transistors, which
are the tiny switches that direct electrical current.
used a technique called extreme ultraviolet lithography
to create the patterns for the chip. To make some of the
material involved, IBM used chemicals that the Almaden
lab has worked on for decades, said Almaden lab Director
want to be clear about this — 7 nanometers is really
hard," he added. "Although Moore’s Law is
continuing, it is not in the same way it used to. You
don’t just keep it going by shrinking."