The World’s Smallest and Fastest Chip is Here - What’s Next?

July 10, 2015 by Jennifer A. Diffley

IBM has created the world's smallest and fastest computer chip. What's next?

IBM has created the world's smallest and fastest computer chip. What's next?

This week, IBM announced it had successfully created the world's smallest computer chips with functioning transistors. To give you an idea of how small that is: at 7nm, the chips are only about three times the size of a single strand of DNA. IBM is predicting they'll be able to place more than 20 billion transistors on a single chip.

They're so small, in fact, that traditional production methods couldn't be used: the chips are made using Extreme Ultraviolet lithography (EUV), a method of etching patterns on chips that comes close to the diameter of individual atoms. Though EUV has been tested for more than a decade, little had been announced about its actual success until IBM's announcement. The chip utilizes silicon germanium, an invention born of a happy accident after silicon was dropped into hydrofluoric acid. 

That sound you just heard was the internet breaking as news sources scrambled for the details on the new chip. Predictions were made about Moore's Law being, yet again, proven true and where the technology could lead--everything from cloud servers to home computing to big data. The problem is that the 7nm chip is still years away from having an impact on things like mobile devices and home computers, and the laptop as we know it will be obsolete by the time 7nm chips are ready for integration. Will there be any motivation for creativing a 5nm chip? And if there is, what precisely will developers do with it?

“... We’ve gone from sort of a rather routine working premise of ‘let’s make it smaller; it will then run faster; and here’s the next technology generation’ to ‘I’ve scheduled four inventions between now and the next generation of technology.’ The sobering thought is that someone then asks, ‘Uh, what are they?’ I reply, ‘I’m not really sure; that’s why they’re inventions.’” -Dr. Bernard Meyerson

IBM's announcement is proof that science has done its part to fulfill Moore's Law. What will creativity do to ensure it doesn't go to waste?

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