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The science and engineering behind our favorite devices.

IBM's 2nm transistors matter because of their shape, not size

2nm is impressively small, but these transistors also use an innovative "nanosheet" design.
Christopher Schodt
C. Schodt|05.11.21

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A close-up of a 2nm wafer fabricated at IBM Research's Albany facility, with individual chips visible to the naked eye.
IBM

IBM announced last week that it has developed the technology to produce chips with 2nm transistors. You may remember from other episodes of our explainer show, Upscaled, that smaller transistors generally either help improve performance, or power efficiency. The current state of the art is generally around 5nm or 7nm, so this is an impressive jump, though comparing sizes between different manufacturers isn't always accurate.

More interesting than their size is that these chips will be built with a so-called "nanosheet" design. Most modern transistors are based on "FinFET", where the area that current flows through in the transistor is stretched up into a fin. Nanosheet, or "gate-all-around" transistors turn this fin into a stack of individual ribbons, and the design should be able to improve power efficiency and let engineers more easily tweak the electrical properties of different parts of the chip. FinFET has been the standard since 2011, so demonstrating a new transistor style is a pretty big deal in the world of semiconductors.

Find out more by checking out the video.

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