Chip edge

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Published: July 11, 2015 12:30:00 AM

IBM’s superchip spells good news for semi-conductor R&D as well as industry competition

Big Blue has come up with a superchip, with transistors that are just 7 nanometres long—that means it could provide four times the capacity of your average chip used today. In layman terms, it can pack almost 20 billion transistors, far more than the current average, thereby allowing data to travel much faster. That, in itself, should thrill the

Apart from all that it means for the digital industry, IBM’s superchip is important because of two reasons. First, this means there is scope for semi-conductors to improve beyond what was being thought possible so far. Many industry experts had started believing Moore’s Law, the notion that the number of transistors on a chip would double every 18 months, would not continue to hold, at least not infinitely—some technologists even believed that it would be impossible to go beyond the current transistor length of 14-10 nanometres. Second, IBM’s superchip now introduces competition in a business segment that has been, for long, thought of as the fiefdom of Intel. Though Intel, according to reports, is well on its way to come up with a competitor, IBM offering its superchip to vendors like Samsung would bring the prices to a more competitive level than what would have been set in a near- monopoly. There were signs earlier that IBM was exiting the race for developing cutting edge semi-conductors when it paid Globalfoundries $1.5 billion to take its loss-making micro-electronics unit off its hands. But with this, it seems back in the game. Though the superchip will not enter common usage until 6-7 years from now—even the ones with the 14-10 nanometre transistors are yet to become common in usage—the game has definitely changed for now.

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