There’s only so much you can cram into a smartphone without sacrificing other things like phone size, interior space, heat dissipation, and battery life. One solution is to shrink these components while maintaining or even improving their performance and efficiency. This is often the case with semiconductors, especially processors that power phones, laptops, and computers, and IBM’s first 2nm chip, also the world’s first 2nm chip, promises just that and some more more.
Most processors that power high-end smartphones and devices today use 5 or 7 nm FinFET processes. A 5nm chip stuffs less than a million transistors per square millimeter, while this proof-of-concept 2nm chip can hold more than 300 million. According to IBM, this translates into a 45% performance improvement.
With more transistors, the computing power naturally increases, but so does the power consumption. This is not the case here, however, as IBM has announced an even lower energy consumption of 75% compared to chips currently in use. In practice, this could result in smartphones taking days, not hours, to charge.
Of course, it’s not just about the battery life of the smartphone. IBM is trying to envision a world in which data centers generate fewer CO2 emissions and self-driving cars can detect objects more quickly and thus avoid collisions. The smaller chips will also be a boon to the IoT industry, which has always been limited to the available storage space, but also needs enough computing power to offer intelligent functions.
It is too early to get excited about IBM’s 2nm processors, however. It will likely take years for actual 2nm chips to become commercially available, especially given the global silicon shortage we are currently facing.