IBM and Samsung Electronics announced a breakthrough in semiconductor design utilizing a new vertical transistor architecture that demonstrates a path to scaling beyond nanosheet, and has the potential to reduce energy usage by 85% compared to a scaled fin field-effect transistor (finFET). 

The global semiconductor shortage has highlighted the critical role of investment in chip research and development and the importance of chips in everything from computing, to appliances, to communication devices, transportation systems, and critical infrastructure.

This approach makes the Albany Nanotech Complex a world-leading ecosystem for semiconductor research and creates a strong innovation pipeline, helping to address manufacturing demands and accelerate the growth of the global chip industry.

The new vertical transistor breakthrough might potentially help the semiconductor industry continue its relentless journey to deliver significant improvements, including:

  • Potential device architecture that enables semiconductor device scaling to continue beyond nanosheet.
  • Cell phone batteries that could go over a week without being charged, instead of days.
  • Energy intensive processes, such as crypto mining operations and data encryption, could require significantly less energy and have a smaller carbon footprint.
  • Continued expansion of Internet of Things (IoT) and edge devices with lower energy needs, allowing them to operate in more diverse environments like ocean buoys, autonomous vehicles, and spacecraft.

Dr. Mukesh Khare, Vice President, Hybrid Cloud and Systems, IBM Research, said:

“Today’s technology announcement is about challenging convention and rethinking how we continue to advance society and deliver new innovations that improve life, business and reduce our environmental impact. Given the constraints the industry is currently facing along multiple fronts, IBM and Samsung are demonstrating our commitment to joint innovation in semiconductor design and a shared pursuit of what we call ‘hard tech.'”

Back in history, transistors have been built to lie flat upon the surface of a semiconductor, with the electric current flowing laterally, or side-to-side, through them. With new Vertical Transport Field Effect Transistors, or VTFET, IBM and Samsung have managed to implement transistors that are built perpendicular to the surface of the chip with a vertical, or up-and-down, current flow.

The new chips are anticipated to be used in IBM’s own server platforms. This follows the announcement in 2018 that Samsung would manufacture IBM’s 7 nm chips, which became available in the IBM Power10 family of servers earlier this year. The IBM Telum processor, also revealed earlier this year, is similarly manufactured by Samsung using IBM’s designs.

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