For decades, every generation of CPU chips got faster and better because their most fundamental building block, called the transistor, got smaller.
The pace of that shrinking has slowed, but IBM on Thursday revealed that the industry has one more advance ahead of it.
IBM unveiled the world’s first 2-nanometer chip technology. The technology might reach as much as 45% faster than the current mainstream 7-nanometer cpus in today’s phones and laptops and up to 75% more power efficient.
The technology will possibly take several years to reach the market. Once a leading manufacturer, IBM now outsources its production to Samsung but maintains a research center in New York that creates test runs of chips and has deals with Intel to use its technology.
The 2-nanometer chips will beat the leading 5-nanonmeter chips, which are now showing up in smartphones such as the iPhone 12, with the 3-nanometer version expected to arrive after the 5-nanometer chips.
The technology IBM showed off is the most basic component of a CPU: a single transistor, which behaves as an on-off switch to produce 1s and 0s that form all computing.
Making these switches smaller means they can run faster and more efficiently, but it also gives problems as electrons leak during usage at such a small scale. Darío Gil, director of IBM Research, said to reporters that his team was able to use nanometer thin sheets of insulating material to prevent these leaks.
“In the end, there are transistors, and everything depends on if the transistor gets better or not. And it is not guaranteed there will be another transistor advance again. So it is a big deal when we get see there is another,” Gil said.