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IBM's new breakthrough could allow its next generation of Cell processors to reach 22 nm before Intel does.
New techniques will allow tinier computer chips than ever before

The race to shrink circuits is a never ending one.  Having achieved 45nm with its Penryn processors, Intel is looking to move to 32nm next year for the die-shrink of its upcoming Nehalem processor.  Meanwhile, competitor AMD is struggling to get its first 45nm offering, Shanghai, ready for release later this year

However, while the back-and-forth between AMD and Intel often steals the show, the race for die shrinks has several other key competitors.  One is Texas Instruments (TI), who claims to lead Intel in 45nm deployment and performance.  While TI currently doesn't have much in the way of PC/server processor plans, IBM does.  IBM is looking to beat AMD and Intel in die-shrinks and pave the way for its processors to dominate a number of markets, including the PC/server space.

Having already shrunk its powerful Cell processor used in the PS3 to a 45nm production process, IBM is planning to quickly transition to 22nm.

At 22nm, the existing techniques for microprocessor manufacturing useful at the 45nm and 32nm nodes will become obsolete.  While currently lithography techniques cannot produce 22nm circuitry, IBM has developed a new approach called Computational Scaling, which will allow for this tiny-scale production.  The new technique uses advanced mathematical computation to adjust the shape of the masks and illuminating source during etching.

One key advantage of IBM's breakthrough is that it can advance from 32nm to 22nm without fundamental changes to its equipment.  While Intel and AMD are likely to devise similar techniques, the early breakthrough may allow IBM to seize a lead in shrinking, helping it to continue Moore's Law.

Advantages of such smaller processor are numerous.  Due to the shorter interconnects, and other factors, smaller die-sizes yield power savings.  Further, the tiny size will allow for heat reduction.  Finally, it may also allow for more cores in similar packaging.

Like Intel, IBM is planning to bring its 32nm processors to market in 2009.  However, whether it will adhere to Intel's 2011 deployment of 22nm or jump the gun is up in the air.

One thing that is clear is that IBM has plans to deploy 22nm server chips to compete with Intel's offerings.  IBM hopes to apply the new tech to its cloud computing efforts.  It hopes the greater efficiency and processing power afforded by 22nm will help to justify an increasing amount of business and private processing to be offloaded to cloud computing datacenters.

IBM also announced in August that it and its partners had developed a method of manufacturing static RAM (SRAM) cells at a 22nm node.

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By amanojaku on 9/22/2008 1:41:59 PM , Rating: 2
I was pretty sure that AMD lends some tech from IBM when doing R&D for new manufacturing processes, thus IBM cannot "beat" AMD to the punch.

Why not? IBM doesn't have to give AMD it's 22nm process secrets, or even access to its fabs.

But why on earth would IBM be skipping 32nm to go straight to 22nm? Just seems weird to me.

Because AMD and Intel have been bringing Uzis to a knife fight. IBM decided to drop a bomb.

By theplaidfad on 9/22/2008 1:43:12 PM , Rating: 3
Great googly moogly!

Read the article, THEN post!

They aren't skipping 32nm!

By Oregonian2 on 9/22/2008 2:02:36 PM , Rating: 2
Nor do they say that they're ahead of Intel in terms of when parts come out of the door in production parts. Only dates mentioned are for 32nm parts where both Intel and IBM say 2009. One could interpret IBM's announcement just to say that they're not behind Intel and that they may be able to save money as compared to the way Intel is doing it.

By Master Kenobi on 9/22/2008 2:39:41 PM , Rating: 4
IBM is always about announcements of discoveries but never of commercialization. Intel has historically always been first to bring a new process or node to the mass market even when IBM announces they did it first.

By lifeblood on 9/22/2008 3:42:15 PM , Rating: 3
I see I am not the only one to notice that. IBM seems so quick to toot their own horn but they don't seem to actually get it out the door in into use.

I wonder if that's how IBM get's their money? Invent something cool in the lab, make a big deal about it regardless of how practical it is, then license it to someone to try to make it commercially useful. In this case AMD looks to be the company that has to take that cool theory and turn it into an actual money making product or process.

By Oregonian2 on 9/22/2008 5:41:54 PM , Rating: 3
Well, thing is that IBM's technology is for the most part only for "in house" use (although they made PPC IC's for Apple, some even with Motorola logo's on them, rumors have it). Their corporate focus is as a services company, not as a technology component selling one (even if they do that). Focus isn't where AMD and Intel's are. Their IC's are primarily a means to an end (fast servers providing services to customers), as opposed to AMD and Intel where the IC's are for the most part a major end product. Next major announcement on this for them may very well be for servers using the technology.

"My sex life is pretty good" -- Steve Jobs' random musings during the 2010 D8 conference

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