An alliance led by IBM Research has announced that it has produced the semiconductor industry’s first 7nm (nanometer) node test chips with functioning transistors. The breakthrough, accomplished at SUNY Polytechnic Institute’s Colleges of Nanoscale Science and Engineering could result in the ability to place more than 20 billion tiny switches — 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 unique 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.
Microprocessors utilizing 22nm and 14nm technology power today’s servers, cloud data centers 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. These techniques and scaling could result in at least a 50 percent power/performance improvement for the next generation of systems that will power the Big Data, cloud and mobile era.
The 7nm node milestone continues IBM’s legacy of historic contributions to silicon and semiconductor innovation. They include the invention or first implementation of the single cell DRAM, the Dennard Scaling Laws, chemically amplified photoresists, copper interconnect wiring, Silicon on Insulator, strained engineering, multi core microprocessors, immersion lithography, high speed SiGe, High-k gate dielectrics, embedded DRAM, 3D chip stacking and Air gap insulators.
IBM and SUNY Poly have built a highly successful, globally recognized partnership at the multi-billion dollar Albany NanoTech Complex, highlighted by the institution’s Center for Semiconductor Research (CSR), a $500 million program that also includes the world’s leading nanoelectronics companies. The CSR is a long-term, multi-phase, joint R&D cooperative program on future computer chip technology. It continues to provide student scholarships and fellowships at the university to help prepare the next generation of nanotechnology scientists, researchers and engineers.