Technology

Smallest and most powerful microchip ever designed by IBM

IBM has designed the smallest and most powerful microchip ever. It is a challenge to make the chips smaller, faster, more powerful, and energy-efficient at the same time. IBM claims they have succeeded, with a new microchip that works with 2-nanometer process technology.

We use microchips on a daily basis. They are in our smartphones, but also in supercomputers and transport equipment. Most devices today contain microchips with the technology between 7 and 10 nm. A few manufacturers are already making 5nm microchips.

The lower the number, the smaller and more advanced the chip. The new chip from IBM uses 2 nm technology. That is a huge step forward.

“There aren’t many technologies or technological breakthroughs that will ultimately benefit everything,” said IBM Research Director Dario Gil. “This is an example of it.”

The way to improve a chip’s performance is to increase the number of transistors – the core elements that process data – without increasing the overall size of the microchip.

The new 2-nanometer chips are about the size of a fingernail and contain 50 billion transistors, each about the size of two strands of DNA, according to IBM vice president Mukesh Khare. That’s 30 million transistors more than their 5-nanometer chips announced in 2017.

The number in nanometers refers to the size of the transistors in the chip.

IBM's 2-nanometer transistors viewed through a microscope.
©REUTERS – IBM’s 2-nanometer transistors viewed through a microscope

Thanks to the extra transistors, more innovations can also be added directly to the chip, such as artificial intelligence (AI).

The new chip is expected to achieve 45 percent better performance and about 75 percent lower power consumption than today’s most advanced 7-nanometer chips. With 2 nanometer chips, mobile phone batteries can last four times longer, laptops become significantly faster, and the carbon impact of data centers can be reduced because they use more energy-efficient chips.

Production of the new chip will normally start in late 2024 or early 2025. That is, therefore, not fast enough to solve the current shortage of microchips.

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