IBM Puts Big Bet On Future Chip Tech

By Steve Anderson July 10, 2014

It's a name that used to be heard all the time, then kind of faded away a bit as the world started looking less toward desktops and laptops and more toward smartphones and tablets. But IBM was never really gone, just looking in other directions. Now, IBM has a new direction in mind, and that direction is nothing less than chip technology, a direction that IBM is prepared to back up with hefty investment, fully $3 billion going into chip technology research and development programs.

More specifically, IBM has something of a holy grail in mind to pursue on the strength of that $3 billion: the “seven nanometer and beyond” silicon chip, as well as a push to work toward alternatives to silicon in general in preparation for the “post-silicon era.” The first goal on IBM's now quite well-funded to-do list is to drive down the size of the semiconductor by a substantial amount, dropping it from its current 22 nanometer measure down to 10 within the next few years, followed by seven nanometers and below before the dawn of 2020.

That's the first goal, and a big enough goal as it sits, but IBM's ready to go beyond that. The silicon chip can only be rendered so small, it's believed, and produce only so much power. Therefore, the company is looking beyond the silicon chip to other materials, including carbon nanotubes, graphene, neurosynaptic computing, quantum computing, and beyond to drive the next—or possibly the next after the next—generation of computers.

The senior vice president of IBM Systems and Technology Group, Tom Rosamilia, offered up some comment on IBM's plans to reshape the chip landscape, saying “In the next 10 years computing hardware systems will be fundamentally different as our scientists and engineers push the limits of semiconductor innovations to explore the post-silicon future. IBM Research and Development teams are creating breakthrough innovations that will fuel the next era of computing systems.” To that end, IBM has not only put up its own research teams, but is also working with the research teams of several other groups worldwide to generate the results desired.

This isn't the first time that IBM has put a big-money guess down on the future; a few months ago, IBM had announced plans to put fully $1 billion on the Watson Group, which counted as part of its operations the Jeopardy kingpin known as the Watson supercomputer. For those concerned that IBM might ultimately sell the semiconductor business, this may put that to rest, but may also add fuel to it, as IBM may be looking to land some exciting new patents before putting the business up for bid.

Still, one thing is clear: the whole concept of a “post-PC era” may have been wildly overblown from the beginning, and this makes it clear enough. While IBM's final designs may not necessarily be a part of the next desktop riding home desks or serving as part of a home theater mechanism, it's entirely possible that such chips will be, especially as new applications like virtual reality tools become less a part of science fiction and more a part of science fact. IBM will want to have a good grasp on the next chip designs, whether said chips are parts of servers or a home gaming system.

It's good business to be ready for tomorrow, and better business to be ready for the next decade. IBM likely has the right idea here, and one that should prove amply rewarded in the field.

Edited by Adam Brandt

Contributing TechZone360 Writer

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