IBM announced it has produced the world’s first functional 7nm node test chips. The most advanced commercial CPUs of today are built using a 14nm process and there are plans afoot for 10nm chips in 2016, but shrinking manufacturing any further has proven challenging and not at all straightforward.
“7nm node has remained out of reach due to a number of fundamental technology barriers,” says IBM, with the most notable among them being the material properties of silicon itself. IBM’s group of collaborators, which includes Samsung and the SUNY Polytechnic Institute, replaced pure silicon with a silicon-germanium (SiGe) alloy for the channel transistors to improve electron mobility at that minuscule scale. It also employed Extreme Ultraviolet (EUV) lithography to etch the microscopic patterns into each chip.