Two years ago, IBM announced that it has created the world's first 7-nanometer chip and now the company has announced another first.
At 2017's Symposia on VLSI Technology and Circuits Conference in Kyoto, Japan, IBM announced it had discovered a process for creating a 5nm chip with 30 billion transistors.
IBM's Latest Breakthrough
IBM's newest process was discovered by its Research Alliance which includes Samsung and GlobalFoundries. Their latest innovation, which probably won't arrive until at least 2020, will put 30 billion transistors on a chip the size of a fingernail. For reference, IBM's 7nm chips contain 20 billion transistors.
The more closely packed together the transistors are, the faster information can be passed between them resulting in increased performance efficiency. IBM estimates that its upcoming chips will show a 40 percent performance increase or a 75 percent increase in power efficiency at current levels of performance.
Speaking of power efficiency, IBM has predicted that these new chips could lead to future phones having two to three times as much battery life as current models. Obviously, this would be a boon to consumers as dying batteries are the bane of the modern world. Realistically, we don't expect to see such a large improvement in battery life as smartphone manufacturers tend to favor increased speed and performance over efficiency. However, there's no reason that future phones couldn't be a bit faster and a bit more power efficient.
A Long Wait
Unfortunately, we'll have to wait awhile to see if these claims bear fruit as even the 7nm chips aren't expected to be here until 2018. The chips that are being used in current products are 10nm chips. For example, Samsung's Galaxy S8 makes use of Qualcomm's Snapdragon 835.
Regardless, the fact that 5nm chips are in the works is a good thing for the industry. Manufacturers will no longer have to worry about whether or not they can obtain meaningful performance boosts from one generation of devices to the next. On the consumer side of things, it means that manufacturers should be able to produce interesting hardware every few years.
On a more philosophical note, it also means that Moore's Law holds true for at least a few more years. Moore's Law, named after Intel co-founder Gordon Moore, says that the number of transistors found on a circuit will double every two years. As technology has advanced, there have been some fears that the law's time was coming to an end. For now, at least, that appears to not be the case.