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IBM reveals the world's smallest and fastest computer chip. Now what?

The new chips are some of the first to be made with 7 nanometer transistors – half the size of those normally used.

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    An alliance led by IBM Research has produced the semiconductor industry's first 7 nanometer node test chips with functional transistors.
    Darryl Bautista/IBM/AP
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IBM has created a computer chip with roughly four times the capacity of today’s most powerful chips, The New York Times reports.

These tiny but powerful chips will help "produce the next generations of servers and storage systems for cloud computing, big data analytics, and cognitive computing," writes IBM VP Mukesh Khare on IBM's Smarter Planet blog.

The new chips are some of the first to be made with 7 nanometer transistors – half the size of those commonly used today, reports TIME.

A nanometer is about 1/10,000th the width of a human hair, explains Supratik Guha, IBM Research’s director of physical science, so about 20,000 transistors will fit on a chip the size of a fingernail.

What's the secret? Changing materials from pure silicon to silicon-germanium. The switch allows transistors to use less power and sit more densely on a chip.

The manufacturing process also uses "extreme ultraviolet," a form of lithography that companies have struggled to perfect for more than two decades, according to The Wall Street Journal.

“I’m not surprised, because this is exactly what the road map predicted, but this is fantastic,” Subhashish Mitra, an electrical engineer at Stanford University, told The New York Times.

But it will take time for consumers to see results in the gadgets they use everyday.

Chips that take advantage of the 7 nanometer production process won't become commercially available for several years, according to The Wall Street Journal.

Nevertheless, the new development will help IBM and their manufacturing partners put pressure on competitors like Intel.

IBM has committed to spending $3 billion on chip research and development, according to their blog. Developing this new, submicroscopic transistor means that Moore’s Law, which says computer power should double every couple of years, can still hold true, despite earlier worries that chip makers were nearing the limit of transistor density in processors.

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