IBM, GlobalFoundries, and Samsung said Monday that they have found a way to make thinner transistors, which should enable them to pack 30 billion switches onto a microprocessor chip the size of a fingernail.
The tech industry has been fueled for decades by the ability of chipmakers to shoehorn ever smaller, faster transistors into the chips that power laptops, servers, and mobile devices. But industry watchers have worried lately that technology was pushing the limits of Moore’s Law—a prediction made by Intel (INTC) co-founder Gordon Moore in 1965 that chips could double in power every two years or less.
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Monday’s news means chipmakers could enable the production of smaller, 5-nanometer processors within a few years. Most of today’s high-end chips sport 10 nanometer transistors. IBM said chips using this transistor technology will be 40% faster and use 75% less power than the current 10-nanometer chips. Smaller, faster chips would suit artificial intelligence, virtual reality, and other compute-intensive uses, IBM said.
“This is a big change in transistor design,” Jim McGregor, founder and principal analyst of Tirias Research, tells Fortune. The goal there is to keep shrinking the transistors while also improving performance, he adds.
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This work, which the three companies will discuss at a tech conference in Japan this week, should show up in working chips around 2020 or beyond. “Right now we’re moving from 10 nanometer to 7 nanometer, with 5-nanometer to follow,” McGregor says.
IBM sold its chip-making capabilities to GlobalFoundries three years ago, but continues to work on server chip design. So while IBM (IBM) is no longer a chipmaker, it works with chip fabrication partners and still has key talent doing transistor and processor technology research, McGregor notes.