IBM Reveal 1st 5nm Chip, World's Smallest Fabrication Process Using Ultraviolet Lithography

Written by Neil Soutter on Tue, Jun 6, 2017 2:10 PM

While the likes of Intel and AMD are busying themselves with their latest 10nm and 14nm processors, IBM has smashed them all with its new 5nm process. This is far ahead of even Samsung and Qualcomm’s progress on 10nm chips for mobiles, cramming in a frankly ridiculous 30 billion transistors into a tiny chip no bigger than a postage stamp. 

That’s an impressive claim on its own - just two years ago we were astounded by 20 billion transistors from a 7nm fabrication process, so this represents a significant leap forward. Shrinking the die allows semiconductor manufacturers to squeeze on more transistors in the same amount of space. This allows them to create chips with increased clock rates, lower power consumption, and a greater price to performance ratio. 

All of this was made possible thanks to the use of advanced extreme ultraviolet (EUV) lithography. This is a process which has been bandied around for some time now, yet this is the first time we’ve actually seen it used in a finalised product. EUV is seen as the next necessary step in order to continue matching the rate of Moore’s Law. 

Up until now, processor manufacturers have been using three-dimensional FinFET architecture in order eke out more performance and efficiency. Optimisations of FinFET architecture have helped with die shrinks all the way up to 7nm, yet technologies such as EUV are required in order to increase transistor capacity yet further. EUV is capable of transistor features smaller than the optics of the manufacturing system can even detect. 

These 5nm chips from IBM use a new Gate-All-Around transistor (GAAFET), wrapping the gate material around three nanosheets.

FinFET could conceivably be used for 5nm, but IBM believes the process is reaching its logical end. To that end, IBM is also aiming to use the same EUV GAAFET technology to scale down to 3nm.

From a performance point of view, this first 5nm chip offers 40% performance gains over current 10nm chips while consuming the same level of power. This makes them extremely power efficient, which could prove extremely useful in extending the battery life of mobile and laptop devices.

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09:45 Jun-07-2017

good, now the industry can move forward again

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07:08 Jun-07-2017

I wasn't around for the early days of IBM, but i can see why they are amazing.

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23:53 Jun-06-2017

Good to see things are still progressing on silicon. We keep hearing it's reached it's limit then someone comes up with a new process. Would like to bet we will see a process measured in pico meters using silicon at some point.

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07:24 Jun-07-2017

Silicon certainly has large enough atom to have some functionality in a picometer CPU (atoms are measured in picometers) but I don't think it's that simple. Carbon could play a big factor in picometer CPUs at some point. Only time will tell. And btw we have reached silicon's limit. The clever scientists just found a way to counteract the quantum tunneling effect (long story short, electrons passing through when they aren't supposed to)

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21:56 Jun-06-2017

I don't like Intel, AMD and Nvidia, but I like IBM, always on top of everybody, brings the most innovations and don't care only about profits, proven by the fact that they hire as many people as they can so that they maintain a couple percent positive. Too bad they don't have any consumer grade hardware products.

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05:52 Jun-07-2017

I like IBM as well, if it is possible, I do want to work for them doing something related to heat transfer or robotics even if it is for a short time. I also hope that the newest line of Via products are going to be sold world wide in the CPU and socketed motherboard format, their newest CPU's are about as fast as Steamroller but apparently can be purchased up to 8 core chips and about as much power draw as a high end laptop's CPU, looks good for compact builds

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05:53 Jun-07-2017

(continuation) I do hope that Via, Qualcomm or Samsung also start building dedicated graphics cards to at least compete on the low end

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21:53 Jun-06-2017

next up micron breaks into the angstrom level

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05:58 Jun-07-2017

a family member of mine helped build a lithography machine specifically for making the read/write heads for hard drives which uses X rays, the technology in it is capable of going down to the angstrom level, if I remember correctly the machine was for Seagate

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15:38 Jun-06-2017

IBM prooving they still got it! :)
Nice to see the parents of my favourite Laptop series back in action!

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15:37 Jun-06-2017

IBM is a name I haven't heard in a long time! The sleeping giant is back hahahah... :D

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21:55 Jun-06-2017

They were never gone, they just don't need marketing, so they don't care.

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14:47 Jun-06-2017

how is this to be cooled?

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15:16 Jun-06-2017

with elfic magic

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05:59 Jun-07-2017

I thought it was by the will of the garden sprites

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