Science

IBM and Samsung propose chips that could take the autonomy of smartphones to a week

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The two manufacturers have just presented a new type of low-power chip, capable of extending the autonomy of smartphone batteries up to a week. To do this, they have developed a new semiconductor design process based on a vertical architecture, which can reduce energy consumption by 85% compared to traditionally used architecture today.

With ever-increasing advancements in technology, so does the demand for higher performance and energy efficiency of electronic components. In this context, IBM unveiled a new semiconductor manufacturing process a few months ago, with 2-nanometer sheets, which theoretically can achieve a yield of more than 45%, or an energy consumption of less than 75%, compared to chips. more advanced 7nm. the 2 nm and 7 nm dimensions refer to the dimensions of the applied etchings.

“IBM’s innovation reflected in this new 2nm chip is essential for the entire semiconductor and computing industry,” said Dario Gil, senior vice president and chief executive officer at the time, IBM Research. And for good reason: This new technology offers the ability to fit up to 50 billion transistors on a chip the size of a fingernail, the manufacturer specifies. These 2nm chips could potentially quadruple the life of phone batteries, spacing each recharge by roughly four days, and dramatically increase laptop performance.

An approach that extends Moore’s law

But IBM, in collaboration with Samsung Electronics, went even further in innovation: together, they designed a new architecture of field-effect transistors, called Vertical Transport Field-Effect Transistors (VTFETs), that could really revolutionize computing in the world. next years.

Transistors are semiconductor devices that are used in most electronic circuits; the more they are on a chip, the better the computing performance. According to Moore’s law, the number of transistors on a microprocessor chip doubles roughly every two years. It is true that transistors are getting smaller and smaller thanks to increasingly fine engraving, but this cannot go below a certain threshold. With 2nm engraving, we are getting dangerously close to the maximum limits imposed by the available space.

FinFET architecture vs. VTFET. © IBM / YouTube

This is where the new technology offered by IBM and Samsung makes sense. Unlike so-called “fin field effect transistors” (referred to as FinFETs for fine field effect transistors), which are the current standard and lie flat on the surface of the chip, VTFETs are arranged vertically, which allows ” to place more on an equivalent surface. With FinFETs, electrical flow is carried through one transistor to the other, while flowing from bottom to top in VTFETs.

This approach not only adds more transistors, pushing back the limit set by Moore’s Law, but increases the contact areas between each of them, improving current flow and reducing energy losses. According to IBM, VTFETs could double the performance of currently available technologies or reduce their power consumption by 85%.

Higher performance, long-lasting autonomy

The potential applications are numerous. Thanks to VTFET, smartphone batteries could last more than a week without recharging. Also, particularly energy-intensive processes, especially cryptocurrency mining and data encryption, could require significantly less energy; Good news when you consider that Bitcoin mining in China could represent an annual energy consumption of almost 300 Twh and generate more than 130 million metric tons of CO2 (more than the total annualized production of greenhouse gas emissions of the Czech Republic and Qatar).

The Internet of Things sector could also benefit from these exceptional features: IBM mentions in particular ocean beacons, spacecraft and even autonomous vehicles, whose autonomy and performance would necessarily be increased. “Today’s technology announcement aims to challenge convention and rethink how we continue to advance society and deliver new innovations that improve lives, businesses and reduce our environmental impact,” said Dr. Mukesh Khare, vice president of IBM Research.

Please note that this announcement comes as the world is currently facing an unprecedented semiconductor shortage. It turns out that semiconductors are absolutely everywhere today: in smartphones, computers, game consoles, home appliances, cars, solar panels; in short, most electronic devices. They are made from raw materials such as silicon and germanium, and their production is a long and complex process, lacking “flexibility” when demand varies.

Thus, the sudden increase in demand directly linked to the health crisis, associated with the slowdown in production (due to closures and multiple lockdowns), has started a shortage that should last several months, or even until the end of 2022 depending on the population. . Against this backdrop, Apple was even forced to lower its production targets for the iPhone 13! That is, approximately 75% of the world’s semiconductor manufacturing capacity is concentrated in China and East Asia, while 100% of the world’s most advanced semiconductor manufacturing capacity (<10 nm) is located in Taiwan (92%) and South Korea (8%). . However, the European Union aims to produce 20% of the world's semiconductors by 2030.

IBM

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