Moore’s Law Lives

The next time you think of IBM as a service company that no longer makes computers, you need to remember that this is one of the few Fortune 500 companies that still invests heavily in hardware research and development.

Smallest computer chip

Photo credit: Darryl Bautista/ Feature Photo Service/ IBM

PhotoIBM’s tiniest chip ever, the 7 nanometer, quadruples the number of transistors that fit. 

Last month, the company announced that it had managed to cut in half the size of the smallest features in a new chip. Previously, the smallest, most dense chips had “wires” about 14 nanometers wide. IBM’s new chip has 7-nanometer-wide “wires,” a trick made possible by using germanium in the chip, instead of pure silicon. But cutting those features down in size by half doesn’t mean getting twice as much on a chip — it means getting four times as much. Meanwhile, 14-nanometer and 10-nanometer chips have barely made their way into devices like cellphones.

Intel is known to be working on a 7-nanometer chip too. Last year, IBM sold most of its chip factories to GlobalFoundries Inc., further moving away from manufacturing. But research and development continue strongly at the company, which intends to license the new chip to Samsung, GlobalFoundries and other companies.

Scientists have been predicting the demise of Moore’s law (that the number of transistors on a chip will double every two years) as tiny wires and components begin to bump up against the reality of the sizes of atoms and molecules. So smaller, denser chips are far more significant than people may imagine. For one thing, they mean that Moore’s law is continuing to function — at least for now. For another, they can make the size of all electronics much smaller. For example, smaller chips can lead to communications satellites that are lighter and denser, so two can be launched on the same rocket, instead of one.

Smaller chips make computers far faster in their operations, which allows them to use greater memories more efficiently. IBM itself is developing a computer that uses neural-like networks to process information more like humans do. And eventually, tiny dense chips will lead the way to implants in our own brains.

To your health and wealth,

Stephen Petranek
for The Daily Reckoning

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