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IBM Made A Computer Chip That's The Size Of A Fingernail and Thinner Than A Virus

As if your phone and laptop aren't fast enough, researchers at IBM have created a powerful new computer chip that will blow processing speed and battery life records out of the water. Good things come in little packages.

IBM Research scientist Nicolas Loubet holds a wafer of chips with 5nm silicon nanosheet transistors.

The Little Chip That Could

The secret behind the new technology is in its design, which allows scientists to pack more transistors together, Mukesh Khare, vice president of semiconductor technology research at IBM Research, told Venture Beat. "This is a major innovation," he said. "This shows with the right investment one could continue to push semiconductor technology."

The new chip is only 5 nanometers thick—smaller than the size of a virus—and is faster and more efficient than any processors currently on the market. Most chips use what's called a three-gate structure to control how electricity flows through the transistors, but the new chip has a four-gate structure. That makes it even more interconnected, and therefore faster and more powerful, than previous models. The chip will also be able to hold about 30 billion transistors, which is 50 percent more than another IBM model from just two years ago.

IBM scientists prepare test wafers with 5nm silicon nanosheet transistors.
A scan of the 5nm transistor, built by stacking silicon nanosheets as the device structure.

When You'll Be Able To Upgrade

But don't rush to the store quite yet: researchers anticipate that the new chip will hit the market in 2019 at the earliest. But when it does, consumers will reap some major benefits. That's because the chip is not only more powerful than any current technology available, but IBM predicts that it'll be 40 percent faster than conventional chips—while using the same amount of energy.

The revolutionary chip may play a major part in powering the technology of the future, including self-driving cars and artificial intelligence. Dan Hutcheson, CEO of VSLI Research, told WIRED that these technologies are "all highly dependent on more efficient computing power...Without this, we stop."

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Written by Stephanie Bucklin June 27, 2017

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