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Research alliance produces industry’s first 7nm node test chips

09 July 2015

An alliance led by IBM Research has produced the semiconductor industry’s first 7 nanometre (nm) node test chips with functioning transistors.

IBM 7nm node test chip (photo: IBM research via Flickr)

The breakthrough, accomplished in partnership with GlobalFoundries and Samsung at SUNY Polytechnic Institute’s Colleges of Nanoscale Science and Engineering, could result in the integration of more than 20 billion transistors on the fingernail-sized chips that power everything from smartphones to spacecraft.

To achieve the higher performance, lower power and scaling benefits promised by 7nm technology, researchers had to bypass conventional semiconductor manufacturing approaches. Among the novel processes and techniques pioneered by the IBM Research alliance were a number of industry-first innovations, most notably Silicon Germanium (SiGe) channel transistors and Extreme Ultraviolet (EUV) lithography integration at multiple levels.

Industry experts consider 7nm technology crucial to meeting the anticipated demands of future cloud computing and Big Data systems, cognitive computing, mobile products and other emerging technologies. Part of IBM’s $3 billion, five-year investment in chip R&D (announced in 2014), this accomplishment was made possible through a public-private partnership with New York State and joint development alliance with GlobalFoundries, Samsung, and equipment suppliers. The team is based at SUNY Poly’s NanoTech Complex in Albany, New York.

“For business and society to get the most out of tomorrow’s computers and devices, scaling to 7nm and beyond is essential,” says Arvind Krishna, senior vice president and director of IBM Research. “That’s why IBM has remained committed to an aggressive basic research agenda that continually pushes the limits of semiconductor technology. Working with our partners, this milestone builds on decades of research that has set the pace for the microelectronics industry, and positions us to advance our leadership for years to come.”

Microprocessors utilizing 22nm and 14nm technology power today’s servers, cloud data centres and mobile devices, and 10nm technology is well on the way to becoming a mature technology. The IBM Research-led alliance achieved close to 50 percent area scaling improvements over today’s most advanced technology, introduced SiGe channel material for transistor performance enhancement at 7nm node geometries, process innovations to stack them below 30nm pitch and full integration of EUV lithography at multiple levels.


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