IBM burns the first 2nm chip in history … and Intel could take advantage of it

2 nm engraving is finally a reality, and IBM is cutting the champagne. The American rammed the pawn at TSMC in the race for fine engraving by developing the most advanced protocol in the world, with chips not only very thin, but also very advanced in terms of transistor structure (GAA, for Gate All Around, read further).
IBM achieved the feat at its semiconductor research center in Albany, New York. A fineness of engraving which makes it possible to stack up to 333 million transistors per mm² according to the calculations of our colleagues fromAnandTech.

For comparison, the maximum density of TSMC’s 5nm process employed for Apple’s M1 chip is “only” 171 million transistors. IBM’s 2 nm therefore doubles the maximum density, with the attendant promises of performance gains and / or energy savings. IBM is in a position to produce specific promises. Compared to an iPhone 11 or a Pixel 5, whose SoCs are engraved in 7 nm by TSCM, with a quantity of transistors and with equal performance, the energy consumption would be divided by four.

Unlike TSMC, IBM’s technology is cutting edge in all areas, even in the arrangement of transistors. If TSMC engraves finely, the Taiwanese still relies on “FinFET” structures.
IBM, for its part, not only engraves more finely, but also uses a layout called “Gate All Around” (GAA). More complex to produce, GAA structures offer more flexibility in the individual voltages of the transistors.
This is noted once again in the calculations ofAnandTech : TSMC engraves finely and at the best rates in the world (better yields), but Intel, thanks to its SuperFIN technology, manages to put more transistors in 10 nm than what the Taiwanese manage to do in 7 nm.

IBM develops, Intel produces?

Using ASML’s EUV machines, IBM has succeeded in developing the world’s most advanced chip manufacturing process. However, the American no longer produces chips. After selling its PowerPC production plants to GlobalFoundries in 2014, IBM specialized in R&D, selling its know-how to its customers (like Samsung) – intellectual property, software, workflows, processes, etc.

And who could benefit from it quickly? The giant Intel of course! As recently as March, Intel CEO Pat Gelsinger announced, amid tens of billions of factory investments, a technology partnership with IBM. An agreement that aims to help Intel improve packaging processes (chip assembly) as well as the fineness of engraving.

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While it will take time for IBM and Intel to industrialize the 2nm engraving process – adaptation of the process to the types of chips, yields, etc. – the announcement is important for the semiconductor industry. While the entire industry is supplied by TSMC and Samsung for advanced chips, the return of the Americans in the race thanks to IBM will limit dependence on these Asian players alone.

Sources : IBM Research and AnandTech

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