IBM has announced that its research division has produced test chips with functional transistors manufactured using a 7nm production process, making it the first in the semiconductor industry to produce working chips of this kind.
The tech firm said that it has achieved this milestone though partnerships with GlobalFoundries and Samsung, among others, working at the SUNY Polytechnic Institute's College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering in New York where IBM announced earlier this year that it was basing engineers for its semiconductor research efforts.
IBM said that development of 7nm chips has proved a real challenge for the semiconductor industry.
The latest processors powering servers are manufactured using 22nm and 14nm processes, and 10nm chips are in the pipeline, but a 7nm process node has remained out of reach owing to "a number of fundamental technology barriers" that have resulted in impaired chip performance, according to the firm.
IBM has used a combination of novel technologies to get around these barriers, including silicon-germanium channel transistors and Extreme Ultraviolet (EUV) lithography at multiple levels.
The firm claimed that it has been able to achieve almost 50 percent area scaling improvements over today's most advanced 10nm technology, which has itself yet to result in production chips coming to market.
Intel said earlier this year that it is still researching promising options for 7nm process technologies and, while the firm has also been investigating EUV lithography, senior fellow Mark Bohr indicated that he believed Intel would not need to use this technology to produce 7nm chips.
Meanwhile, it seems that Intel has also run into stumbling blocks with its 10nm technology. Some sources have indicated that the first Intel chips to be produced this way will not now arrive until 2017 rather than 2016.
IBM's efforts could result in power/performance improvements of 50 percent or more for upcoming generations of systems, the firm said. However, it declined to indicate when production 7nm chips manufactured using the new techniques might be delivered.
In response to a query from V3, IBM would say only that the technology is being developed in close collaboration with its semiconductor manufacturing partners and the introduction timescale depends on various product timelines.
However, IBM did confirm that it intends to incorporate 7nm technology into the roadmaps for IBM systems in the future, which could see upcoming generations of Power servers or z System mainframes using 7nm chips.
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