IBM (IBM) on Thursday debuted the world’s first 2-nanometer chip making technology, which could enable massive performance gains in terms of both power and battery life over the current industry-leading processors found in everything from smartphones and tablets to the huge computer servers that power the cloud.
“Right now, in the most advanced production in the world is about the 7-nm node, you know on the verge of getting to 5-nm node,” Darío Gil, SVP and director of IBM Research, told Yahoo Finance.
“What we’re talking about here is the first time in the world that anybody has shown, externally, that there’s a viable technology to enable the 2-nm node.”
A chip’s nanometer size refers to the length of its transistors. Transistors are the most basic part of a processor and allow for the on and off signals that make up the 1s and 0s of binary instructions, the foundation of all computer code.
The smaller the size of a transistor, the more that can be packed onto a chip, which means more powerful processors. Smaller transistors also mean chips that consume less power, making them more efficient than their predecessors.
IBM’s new chip technology, according to Gil, is leaps beyond what standard modern 7-nm chips have to offer. The new chips will provide a 45% performance boost when consuming the same power as the larger 7-nm chips.
If you keep the same level of performance in the 2-nm chip as current 7-nm chips, however, Gil says you can improve overall battery life by as much as 75%.
“To put it in a very concrete way that I think folks can understand…your iPhone would last four days,” Gil explained. Apple (AAPL) currently uses a 5-nm custom chip in its iPhone 12 line of devices. Modern laptops and desktops use 7-nm processors. And 3-nm chips are still on the horizon.
While improved iPhone battery life sounds great, the biggest changes could come to the amount of power required by the massive data centers that serve as the backbone of the world’s cloud infrastructure. With more efficient chips, those facilities would use far less power, helping to limit their emissions.
IBM says they are partnering with Samsung among other firms to get 2-nm the technology into devices around the world. But that won’t be happening anytime soon. According to Gil, mass production won’t kick off for a few more years.
“The earliest production we envision would be late 2024, early 2025,” Gil said. “And then you would see a progressive ramp.”
That means the new tech won’t help ease the ongoing global chip shortage, which has roiled more than 169 industries in the U.S. ranging from automakers to air conditioning producers, according to a survey by Goldman Sachs.
It will also take time for the chips to find their way into the devices we use every day once they are being produced at scale. But if it means a cellphone that lasts as long as four days on a single charge, the wait will be worth it.
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