Thursday, October 21, 2021

4-day smartphone battery life on the way after chip breakthrough

IBM says its new 2nm process can fit 50 billion transistors onto 'a chip the size of a fingernail'.

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IBM has engineered a computer chip it claims significantly improves performance while using much less energy.

It claims the chip could reduce the need to charge phones to just once every four days.

The new chip uses 75% less energy and increases performance by 45% over currently available 7nm or nanometres commercial products.

IBM says its significant breakthrough in computer processor manufacturing has come after it created a 2nm chip, the BBC reports.

The process used to make computer chips is measured in nm – one billionth of a metre – with a lower number usually signifying a leap forward.

IBM says its new 2nm process can fit 50 billion transistors onto “a chip the size of a fingernail” – up from 30 billion when it announced its 5nm breakthrough in 2017.

“This can be considered as a breakthrough,” said Peter Rudden, research director at market intelligence firm IDC. “We have seen semiconductor manufacturers moving from 14nm to 10nm to 7nm, with 7nm being a real challenge for some.”

He said IBM’s new process could be used for AI uses that today need a second piece of tech – such as a powerful graphics card – to handle some tasks. The increased power efficiency could be useful in personal devices, while increased performance would benefit huge datacentres, he added.

The test chip for IBM’s 2nm process was built at its Albany research lab in the US, and shows that the giant legacy company is still a force to be reckoned with.

The news comes amid an international shortage of computer chips and a bid to shake up chip manufacturing to rely less on major foundries in China and Taiwan.

Some car manufacturers have been forced to suspend production due to the lack of computer parts; smartphone makers have warned product releases could be affected; and high-end computer components such as graphics cards are becoming difficult to find and selling for high prices.

On Thursday, Nintendo joined the chorus of concerned companies, saying the chip shortage was affecting production of its hugely popular Nintendo Switch console.

The worldwide shortage has led US President Joe Biden to convene a special industry summit on the shortage.

And Intel’s chief executive has announced a US$20 billion investment in two new plants in the US, telling the BBC that having 80% of the world chip supply in Asia is not a good idea.

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