IBM's breakthrough 2nm chip tech is Intel's clearest path to teeny tiny CPUs

IBM's 2nm chip semiconductor wafer
(Image credit: IBM)

IBM just popped up with an exciting breakthrough in transistor technology—the world's first 2nm chips. The news comes straight out of IBM's semiconductor research facility Albany, New York, and means great things for the likes of the company's partners, such as Samsung, and not least its newest partner: Intel.

In fact, it might just prove immensely valuable in Intel's race to catch up with rivals TSMC.

With 50 billion transistors in a chip the "size of a fingernail," IBM claims the research chip's "tiniest components are smaller than a strand of DNA." With it, the company has apparently surpassed its previous 5nm chips in terms of size, and it's even projected to have a 45% performance improvement over 7nm chips, as well as use 75% less energy (via Tom's Hardware).

IBM's $3 billion 'Seven Nanometers and Beyond' research program is moving us out of the age of the FinFET designs of yesteryear, which were fine back when 22nm was the norm, but tend to throw up issues when you get down to the ridiculous scales of today's chips. These new nanosheet designs are part of the gate-all-around design that means we'll no longer have to deal with FinFETs leaking current.

Not much has been divulged about the chip's materials or transistor density yet, nor how the company plans to work around the inherent constraints such a small chip throws up in terms of interconnect scaling (how they'll all be connected up in situ).

What we do know is that, thanks to IBM's recent partnership with Intel, the path is becoming ever clearer for Intel to match TSMC's ever-smaller nodes. Those which act as the building blocks for AMD's CPUs and GPUs, including the best CPU for gaming right now, among many other things.

In good time, too. IBM expects these 2nm nanosheet processes to come tumbling out of its partner's foundries in 2024, albeit late that year. Perhaps in time to meet TSMC's 2nm chips head-on.

Katie Wickens
Hardware Writer

Screw sports, Katie would rather watch Intel, AMD and Nvidia go at it. Having been obsessed with computers and graphics for three long decades, she took Game Art and Design up to Masters level at uni, and has been demystifying tech and science—rather sarcastically—for three years since. She can be found admiring AI advancements, scrambling for scintillating Raspberry Pi projects, preaching cybersecurity awareness, sighing over semiconductors, and gawping at the latest GPU upgrades. She's been heading the PCG Steam Deck content hike, while waiting patiently for her chance to upload her consciousness into the cloud.