IBM Research

5 nanometer transistors inching their way into chips

Share this post:

IBM Research scientist Nicolas Loubet holds a wafer of chips with 5nm silicon nanosheet transistors manufactured using an industry-first process that can deliver 40 percent performance enhancement at fixed power, or 75 percent power savings at matched performance. Press release link (Photo Credit: Connie Zhou)

IBM Research scientist Nicolas Loubet holds a wafer of chips with 5nm silicon nanosheet transistors manufactured using an industry-first process that can deliver 40 percent performance enhancement at fixed power, or 75 percent power savings at matched performance. Press release link (Photo Credit: Connie Zhou)

Announced at the 2017 Symposia on VLSI Technology and Circuits conference in Kyoto this week, IBM and our research alliance partners, GLOBALFOUNDRIES and Samsung built a new type of transistor for chips at the 5 nanometer (nm) node.

To achieve this feat, the architecture – how the elements of a chip are arranged and the materials used – had to change.

We stacked layers of silicon nanosheets together, horizontally, in order for this new architecture to enable our 5nm transistor to deliver the power and performance boost future applications will demand. The change from today’s vertical architecture to horizontal layers of silicon opened a fourth “gate” on the transistor that enabled electrical signals to pass through and between other transistors on a chip. At these dimensions, it means that those signals are passing through a switch that’s no larger than the width of two to three DNA strands, side-by-side.

More ways to send a signal on more 5nm transistors equates to a 40 percent performance improvement over 10nm chips, using the same amount of power; or a 75 percent power savings, at the same performance level. (Let that sink in while reading this article on a mobile device with 10 percent power left: 5nm chips would give you hours, not minutes, before needing to recharge. A future 5nm-chip-powered mobile device will last days longer than what’s in your hand right now.)

Opening the path to more gates

Today’s chips with vertical “fin” transistors, called FinFET, power today’s most-powerful 14nm and 10nm chips, and even our own 7nm test chip announced two years ago. That third dimension of a fin allows for three gates for improved power and efficiency (versus, as you may have guessed, the previous generation’s 2D “planar” chips). These FinFET chips, only recently beginning to make their way into servers, computers, and devices, will be the standard for years to come. For reference, it takes 10 to 15 years of research and development before a groundbreaking new chip technology proliferates the market.

Pictured: a scan of IBM Research Alliance’s 5nm transistor, built using an industry-first process to stack silicon nanosheets as the device structure – achieving a scale of 30 billion switches on a fingernail-sized chip that will deliver significant power and performance enhancements over today’s state-of-the-art 10nm chips. (Photo credit: IBM)

Pictured: a scan of IBM Research Alliance’s 5nm transistor, built using an industry-first process to stack silicon nanosheets as the device structure – achieving a scale of 30 billion switches on a fingernail-sized chip that will deliver significant power and performance enhancements over today’s state-of-the-art 10nm chips. (Photo credit: IBM)

The industry has long understood the limits of the various chip architectures. Our alliance working at the SUNY Polytechnic Institute Colleges of Nanoscale Science and Engineering’s NanoTech Complex in Albany, NY has known that, for example, it’s possible to build a 5nm FinFET transistor from a structural perspective. But scaling from our 7nm chip’s 20 billion FinFET transistors per chip, to 30 billion 5nm FinFET transistors would not deliver the significant power and performance boost mentioned above.

After about a decade of studying the idea of putting gates all around the transistor – often referred to as Gate-All-Around (GAA) – stacked nanosheets delivered a GAA transistor for the 5nm node that actually improved density, performance, and power – all built with industry manufacturable tools and processes.

Wait! What about Moore’s Law?

The mere introduction of new chip technology means this question comes up. Today, Moore’s Law, in the context of logic technology scaling, breaks down into four parts: density, performance, power and economy. Density, or the number of transistors per square inch of a chip, has gone from Gordon Moore’s original observation in 1965 of doubling every 12 months, to now taking three years. Performance improvements have experienced a similar slowing. Power, while less influential at its introduction, has grown in importance due to our battery-hungry mobile devices. The economy, or cost per transistor, is the only element of the “law” that’s kept similar pace over the last 50 years.

A future 5nm node chip with nanosheet transistors, and its scaled density, will deliver the expected value of performance, power, and economy.

At IBM, we think years ahead about what cognitive computing, cloud computing, blockchain, mobile, and security advances should be able to do – and what will make running those algorithms, and apps possible. We believe that billions of 5nm nanosheet transistors will soon serve as the silicon engine for these capabilities.

Add Comment
39 Comments

Leave a Reply to Muraleedharan Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published.Required fields are marked *


Barry Esch

Very cool! Thanks for sharing this.

Reply

Brian Arthur

5nm chip technology to make our ubiquitous IoT devices last days longer on a single charge, I say GO GO GO!!

Reply

Stephanie

Wow. Amazing innovation at IBM!

Reply

Donnie Strybos

Great story, well put together. Thanks for sharing.

Reply

Ahmed Chakroun

Impressive, really cool

Reply

Pulkit Chowdry

Gate all around (GAA) transistor for the 5nm node 🙂 Great !!!!

Reply

Mark Law

Wow, what a technical achievement!

Reply

Dave

“These FinFET chips, only recently beginning to make their way into servers, computers, and devices, will be the standard for years to come.”

What are you guys talking about? Intel has been making FinFET-based processors since 22nm in 2011, that’s almost a decade now…

Reply

    James Stathis

    Dave – FinFET chips are far from ubiquitous. FinFET adoption in the foundry business happened at 14nm, starting in mobile phone CPUs in 2015, and the first available 14nm server CPU was in 2016. Only now are 10nm chips making their way into mobile phones; 10nm chips for computers and servers are not yet available. Compared to the years of advancement yet to be made with this architecture, not to mention the longevity of past designs, FinFET’s presence is still new.

    Reply

Mona

Exciting work! Proud to be part of the Alliance family.

Reply

Chris Krol

This technology announcement is very encouraging for the future of IBM.

Reply

Natesan Venkateswaran

Very interesting write-up on 5nm technology. Thanks for sharing. Looking forward to the day where I don’t need to remember to charge my cell phone every single night..

Reply

Apsar Hussain

Great & cool

Reply

Martin Packer

My assumption is that 5nm will appear first in expensive hardware and gradually filter down to less expensive stuff, such a phones.

I have a question on this: What proportion of chips are made at each current feature size? And is it indeed the case that cheaper devices tend to have chips with the larger feature sizes?

I wonder at what point it becomes uneconomic to manufacture larger-feature-size chips.

Reply

arduino projects

Thanks for the information ,, moore’s law will alive till single electrons and protons acts as a transistor 🙂 cool idea ! thanks

Reply

AVR and arduino projects

moore’s law will alive till single silicon atom can acts as a transistor 🙂 cool idea ! thanks

Reply

Nizar

This is definitely a great break through the silicon material physics limits. And a huge leap in the industry.

I wish to know more on the heat factor, power leak case, and where are with the miniature vacuum tube technology for processors.

Reply

Ankush Raina

Amazing stuff. Look forward to it being implemented in the real world.

Reply

Miguel Angel Secatore

good news! thanks for sharing

Reply

Saju

Awesome news !!!

Reply

Ulrik Soerensen

Cool – it’s a smaller bigger world

Reply

sravan

really excellent technology improvement and amazing semiconduter devices thanks for sharing the information.keep going IBM research team.

Reply

Hernan Alves da Quinta

Excellent work! Thanks for sharing!

Reply

Chip Buerger

What a gamechanger! A far cry from the “planar” bipolar technology Iwe worked on at EFK in in the mid to late 80s! Job well done!

Reply

Shripad Barve

Great. Thanks for sharing.

Reply

Vineet

Amazing!!!

Reply

Rahul Tekwani

Great Work Nicolas!

Reply

Vaishnav

Wow!!! That’s Really Cool…. Thanks for Sharing

Reply

Di Flemming

Fabulous! IBM continues to deliver innovation! #MyIBM

Reply

Ralph Goepel

This is what I call innovation, phantastic! But where is the real limit for down sizing?

Reply

Keerthana Viswanath

Wow, this is truly amazing!!

Reply

Austin McKay

Does this mean laptops and phones will be getting thinner still? Any thinner, and they’ll be like a few sheets of paper.

Reply

Amy Merkle

Congrats to my Albany Nanotech friends & colleagues!

Reply

Hugo Perozo

Question. instead of using layers of silicon nanosheets, would Graphene be an option for this type of development?

Reply

ankita prasad

So interesting. I want to work in research field in IBM if given an opportunity..

Reply

Peter F.

Congratulations for this great achievement! What is the roadmap for making this technology available in future products?

Reply

Hemakumar

Wonderful to see such a great innovations in this field.

Reply

John Ryan

Great write-up. Especially liked the references to how this plays into Moore’s Law.

Reply

Muraleedharan

Moore’s Law fails?????

Reply
More Innovation Stories

Minding the Tech Gap for Women

We live in an age when technology is transforming every facet of our society. In addition to innovations and inventions that are fundamentally changing lives and spawning new business, tech is also creating entirely new careers in areas such as security, blockchain, AI and health care. But while tech opportunities abound in our global economy, […]

Continue reading

How a Small Organization Teamed with IBM for Made-in-Canada Innovation

It goes without saying: starting a business is tough, but growing a business is even harder. A recent Harvard study states that 75 percent of venture-backed startups fail. Industry Canada estimates that 85 percent of Canadian businesses that enter the marketplace will reach one full year, while 70 percent will make it to two years and […]

Continue reading

A New Generation of Networking Is Upon Us

For decades, organizations have relied on the underlying network to link systems and facilitate the transfer of information. The network’s role as an agent for IT is without question, with virtually every job, transaction and operation depending on it. But today it is the network’s role as an agent for business innovation that is far […]

Continue reading