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.