IBM says nanotube transistors chips could be five times faster and ready around 2020

IBM is now aiming to have transistors built using carbon nanotubes ready to take over from silicon transistors soon after 2020. According to the semiconductor industry’s roadmap, transistors at that point must have features as small as five nanometers to keep up with the continuous miniaturization of computer chips. “That’s where silicon scaling runs out of steam, and there really is nothing else,” says Wilfried Haensch, who leads the company’s nanotube project at the company’s T.J. Watson research center in Yorktown Heights, New York. Nanotubes are the only technology that looks capable of keeping the advance of computer power from slowing down, by offering a practical way to make both smaller and faster transistors, he says.

Each chip on this wafer has 10,000 nanotube transistors on it. IBM hopes to be able to put billions of the devices on a single chip soon after 2020.

The current best chips have 14 nanometer features, and by 2020, in order to keep up with Moore’s Law, the industry will need to be down to five nanometers. This is the point IBM hopes nanotubes can step in. The most recent report from the microchip industry group the ITRS says the so-called five-nanometer “node” is due in 2019.

IBM has recently made chips with 10,000 nanotube transistors. Now it is working on a transistor design that could be built on the silicon wafers used in the industry today with minimal changes to existing design and manufacturing methods. The design was chosen in part based on simulations that evaluated the performance of a chip with billions of transistors. Those simulations suggest that the design chosen should allow a microprocessor to be five times as fast as a silicon one using the same amount of power.

IBM’s chosen design uses six nanotubes lined up in parallel to make a single transistor. Each nanotube is 1.4 nanometers wide, about 30 nanometers long, and spaced roughly eight nanometers apart from its neighbors. Both ends of the six tubes are embedded into electrodes that supply current, leaving around 10 nanometers of their lengths exposed in the middle. A third electrode runs perpendicularly underneath this portion of the tubes and switches the transistor on and off to represent digital 1s and 0s.

SOURCE – Technology Review

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