Into the frankly unbelievable future: 5nm tech
We have, I think, now moved from the scientifically uber-impressive to the realms of fantasy and the unbelievable. News out today is about the next generation of chipsets set to appear in phones in 2020 - they're based on 5nm die technology, i.e. this is the size of details in individual transistors in (in this case) Samsung's upcoming chips (the transistors themselves work out to around 40nm). But stop for a moment and think about just. how. small. this. is....
From the (technical) Anand Tech article:
Samsung Foundry has certified full flow tools from Cadence and Synopsys for its 5LPE (5 nm low-power early) process technology that uses extreme ultraviolet lithography (EUV). Full flow design tools are required by chip developers to create efficient and predictable chip designs for advanced nodes quickly.
Samsung Foundry certified the Synopsys Fusion Design Platform as well as the Cadence Full-Flow Digital Solution full-flow design tools for its 5LPE technology using the Arm Cortex-A53 and Arm Cortex-A57 cores. The certification means that these sets of tools meet Samsung Foundry’s requirements and that by using them chip designers can attain optimal power, performance and area (PPA) benefits that 5LPE technology promises to offer.
Samsung’s 5LPE technology relies on FinFET transistors with a new standard cell architecture and uses both DUV and EUV step-and-scan systems. The new fabrication process enables chip designers to reuse 7LPP IP on ICs designed for 5LPE while enjoying all benefits the latter provides. When compared to 7LPP, the new technology has an up to 25% higher ‘logic efficiency’, it also enables chip developers to reduce power consumption of their designs by 20% or improve their performance by 10%.
So this is just a link of interest, really. And to point out how magical the tech world is now. On the right, above (roughly to scale on the average web page display, by https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:Dnu72) is a centimetre and a millimetre. Now consider a dimension a thousand times smaller than that millimetre. That's a micrometre and utterly invisible to the naked eye. Now imagine something 200 times smaller than a micrometre - that's '5nm', 5 nanometres, and that's the scale at which mankind is now making electronic components in 2020.
Paraphrasing (as everyone does) Arthur C Clarke's famous maxim, "any technology that's sufficiently advanced is indistinguishable from magic", I think we're there now. My understanding of circuits is being able to see (even in a microsocope) the components that make up a chip. But at 5nm level, you won't see anything meaningful in traditional microsocopes, even at 100x magnification.
Simply amazing. The big reason why companies continue to make chips smaller, by the way, isn't to save space in devices (which are getting larger!) but to save power, since the smaller chips are more power efficient. So phone chipsets in 2020 and 2021 may help device battery life to improve by an extra 20%.
Still.... 5 nanometres. Wow. That's the scale where individual atoms appear clearly on screen in electron microscopes, held together by powerful lattice forces. And we're working down there now. And in a couple of years time you'll have this technology in your pocket.
Published by Steve Litchfield at 6:28 UTC, July 11th