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IBM Claims "Breakthrough" in Shrinking Down Transistors

Has International Business Machines CorporationIBM found a way to keep up with Moore's Law?

Moore's Law is an observation, which states that the number of transistors on dense integrated circuits tends to double every couple of years. Simply put, computer processing power doubles every two years. The observation was made by Intel Corporation INTC co founder Gordon Moore in 1965.

However, with the universal but age old silicon transistors approaching "physical limitations", it has started to threaten Moore's Law.

Researchers at IBM claim that they have found a way by which they can "shrink transistor contacts without reducing performance of carbon nanotube devices, opening a pathway to dramatically faster, smaller and more powerful computer chips beyond the capabilities of traditional semiconductors".

In short, IBM Research has found a way of making carbon nanotubes transistor chips denser so that more data can be managed at higher speeds, enabling constant technological evolution.

Carbon nanotubes, microscopic single atomic sheets of carbon, have long been considered as next class of semiconductors. Carbon nanotubes have proved to be great transistors when reduced to channel dimensions of less than 10 nanometres, which is 10,000 times thinner than a human hair strand.

These are expected to replace the age old silicon transistors that are heading to a point where further shrinking possibilities are becoming limited. Scientists have long been trying to overcome the obstacle of increasing electric resistance when shrinking the size of both silicon and carbon nanotubes.

A welding mechanism put to use by IBM researchers by which metal atoms are bound to the carbon atoms at the ends of nanotubes has proven that nanotube transistors can be reduced to less than 10 nanometres, without causing any performance worsening.

As per IBM's research, carbon nanotubes will prove highly useful as the world moves to the Internet of Things. It will help to analyse Big Data faster and help cloud services perform more efficiently. It will provide more power to cellular devices and high performance computing.

IBM started research in nano technology way back in 1998. One of the primary goals of IBM's latest development has been to replace silicon transistors with carbon nanotubes. In 2014, the company committed $3 billion over a period of 5 years for the development of a project that involved building super compact processors.

Under the strategy, in July, the company unveiled its first 7-nanometer chips with reportedly four times the capacity of the most powerful chips currently available. The project was under development in collaboration with GlobalFoundries, Samsung and SUNY Polytechnic Institute's Colleges of Nanoscale Science and Engineering.

Carbon nanotubes are widely expected to revolutionize transistor technology as a whole as nanotubes consume much less power to change its state compared to traditional silicon transistors. As a result, there is less heat generation and leakage (a consistent problem with compact silicon transistors), which allows adding more nanotube transistors onto a chip. In financial terms, this means getting more utility at a lesser cost with the bonus of increased power.

However, IBM faces several challenges in bringing this technology to real usage. Analysts point out that while the resistance problem is solved the capacitance problem persists. Capacitance involves slowing down of electron flow with shrinkage. There are tremendous technical complexities involved in controlling the electron flow at nano thickness.

Moreover, nanotubes come in two varieties, semiconductors and metallurgic and are very hard to distinguish. Metallurgic ones are dangerous as their use will severely damage transistor functionality. Also, commercial manufacturing of these nano transistors will require higher precision than the existing silicon technology.

Despite its shortcomings, nano technology appears to be the future of technological advancement.

Currently, IBM has a Zacks Rank #3 (Hold). Better-ranked stocks in the technology space include Top Image Systems Ltd. TISA which sports a Zacks Rank #1 (Strong Buy) and Mentor Graphics Corp. MENT holding a Zacks Rank #2 (Buy).

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The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.


The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

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