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IBM Research builds functional 7nm processor

IBM is banking on its research unit to deliver semiconductor breakthroughs that will ultimately power the company's products ranging from Watson to the cloud to mainframes and data centers.

IBM Research said Thursday that it has built the first functional 7 nanometer node test chips with partners GlobalFoundries, Samsung and SUNY Polytechnic Institute's Colleges of Nanoscale Science and Engineering.

Big Blue is hoping that the test processors will be the beginning of smaller semiconductors that can carry on Moore's Law a bit more and ultimately power analytic workloads.

For comparison, a 7nm node is a bit larger than human DNA, which is 2.5nm in diameter. Creating processors at that size has led to degraded chip performance. Mature processors today range from 10nm to 14nm to 22nm in size.

IBM is banking on its research unit to deliver semiconductor breakthroughs that will ultimately power the company's products ranging from Watson to the cloud to mainframes and data centers.

According to IBM, the 7nm test chip with working transistors was created using processes cooked up by its research team including Silicon Germanium (SiGe) channel transistors and Extreme Ultraviolet (EUV) lithography.

IBM plans to invest $3 billion over five years in chip research and development. The investment plans were outlined last year.

On July 1, IBM closed the deal to sell its microelectronics business to GlobalFoundries, which gains intellectual property, manufacturing capacity and workers. GlobalFoundries, the former manufacturing arm of AMD, is the largest privately held semiconductor company.