World's smallest nano chip will double processing power of smartphones

The world's smallest nano chip, which has the capacity to double processing speeds in smartphones and big data processors, has been unveiled.

Computer giants IBM announced that they had developed functional nano chips measuring just seven nanometres.

In comparison, a strand of human DNA is about 2.5 nm and the diameter of a single red blood cell is approximately 7,500 nm.

IBM pledged to spend $3bn (€2.7bn) on developing the next generation of nanotechnology last September and the company hopes that the chips will be operational within two years.

Seven-nanometre technology and its advanced process speed is considered essential by industry experts to cope with the demands of cloud computing and other emerging technologies. The current standard size of nano chips used in microprocessors is 14 nanometres.

The latest version of Apple's MacBook laptop reportedly utilise 14 nm technology, while the iPhone 6 uses a 20 nm chip.

The latest advance maintains the principle of Moore's Law, first observed by Intel co-founder Gordon Moore in 1965. The law states that computing power will double every two years as the size of silicon chips are halved, and has guided the technological advances of the past half-century.

The first 14 nm chips were unveiled in 2014, meaning that IBM's advance preserves the law for the time being.

To make the advance, the research team had to employ a number of novel technologies. These included a new way of etching the chips, called Extreme Ultraviolet Lithography (EUV), which used ultraviolet waves with a wavelength of just 13.5 nm. They also used a silicon-germanium material, rather than pure silicon, for certain parts of the chip.

IBM is licensing the technology used to produce the chips to its partner GlobalFoundaries, which supplies chips to wireless giants Qualcomm and AMD, which produces processors for laptops.

Other manufacturers have struggled to reach the next generation in chip technology. Intel, one of IBM's main rivals, is struggling to reduce the size of processors to 10 nm. Others such as the Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company, which supplies chips to Apple, have not yet been able to demonstrate working prototypes of seven nm technology.

The next stage in nano chip technology is the five nm chip, though it is unclear whether such an advance is even possible without the development of entirely new techniques and materials.