Monday, November 28, 2022

US and Japan join forces to start factory for tiny 2-nanometer chips

With the rise of artificial intelligence, hybrid clouds, and the Internet of Things, chip performance and energy efficiency are becoming more important than ever, prompting companies to begin a relentless search for smaller, more efficient chips. Even Moore’s Law, which argues that the number of transistors on a chip will double every two years, is becoming obsolete.

The game was changed last year by IBM, which disrupted the market with a pioneering 2-nanometer (nm) chip technology, and by Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC) to begin production of 2-nm chips by 2025. was set for. Now, the US and Japan have decided to join the race, creating a joint research center for their 2-nm chips.

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The center will be set up by a new Japanese chip research institute, using equipment and human resources from the planned US National Semiconductor Technology Center. The two countries plan to set up a prototype production line at the new research center in Japan with the ambitious goal of mass-producing the chips in 2025.

The move is also aimed at diversifying the chip manufacturing market. Taiwan currently hosts more than 90% of the world’s production capacity for chips in the less than 10 nm ranges and the island also plans to start manufacturing its own 2-nm chips in 2025. Amid the prospect of China using force to unify Taiwan with the mainland, Japan and the US decided to step in to ensure access to the new chips.

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The US is the center of chip design with companies such as Qualcomm and Nvidia, while Japanese companies such as JSR, Shin-Etsu Chemical and Screen Holdings are competitors in chipmaking equipment. The two countries will offer financial assistance to boost their chip industries, allocating billions in research and development over a decade.

Last week, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo met with Japan’s Foreign Affairs Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi and Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Koichi Hagiuda in Washington DC. In a statement, they agreed to “promote supply flexibility” in sectors such as semiconductors.

The road ahead for smaller chips

Semiconductor chips hold the data needed to use computers, cameras, cars and all kinds of daily equipment. They are the backbone of everything we do in modern technology. As the pandemic forced many people to work remotely, increasing our reliance on computers, it increased the need for chips – and also led to a global chip shortage.

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Over the decades, transistors have shrunk dramatically – from an initial 10,000nm in 1971 to a standard of 5nm in 2020. The 2nm transistors on the new chips, essentially a circuit of connected transistors, are smaller than can be detected by the eye. The smaller the transistors, the more they fit on the chip, which makes the whole chip more efficient. So yes, size does matter, at least here.

The 2nm chip should improve the performance of all the gadgets that use them while making them smaller and allowing for new features. For example, IBM forecasts a 45% increase in product performance thanks to its 2nm chip. This could allow cellphones to be charged once every four days instead of daily and could make self-driving cars smarter.

Another advantage of the 2nm chip is that it could potentially produce a 75% reduction in energy consumption, based on IBM’s estimates, because less energy is needed to power a smaller device. IBM estimates that the energy savings could power 43 million homes annually if every data center shifted to 2nm chips. The tech industry now accounts for 2% of global emissions, so this will also be a big change.

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