IBM tapped Samsung to manufacture its 7-nanometer (nm) microprocessors for its high-end data center and cloud servers.
The announcement comes as other manufactures including Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. (TSMC) race to bring their next-gen silicon to market — and challenge Intel’s long-standing chip dominance in the data center. It also follows earlier rumors that IBM would use TSMC’s technology.
“After discussions with many of the vendors in our ecosystem, we decided to partner with Samsung who we’ve been working with for the past 15 years on R&D,” said John Acocella, VP of enterprise systems and technology development for IBM Systems, in an email.
“As part of IBM’s Research Alliance, IBM and Samsung helped to develop the first 7nm test chip,” he added.
This was back in 2015. At the time, the partners said technology breakthroughs could result in the ability to place more than 20 billion tiny switches on the fingernail-sized chips that power everything from smartphones to spacecraft. These 7nm chips (and Intel’s equivalent 10nm technology) promise higher performance, lower power, and scaling benefits compared to earlier microprocessors.
7nm Race to Market
In October, Samsung started mass production of 7nm chips. Companies including AMD, Apple, Nvidia, and Qualcomm have said they will order 7nm chips from TSMC for their products in 2019. Intel, meanwhile delayed its new silicon until “holiday of 2019” after admitting difficulty developing its processor technology for 10nm chip manufacturing.
IBM designs its own chips and has been using another contract chipmaker, GlobalFoundries, to produce them. But in August, GlobalFoundries announced it would put on hold indefinitely its 7nm business, leaving IBM in a lurch.
“We’ve been looking for a manufacturer for our 7nm chips and beyond,” Acocella said, adding that IBM will still partner with GlobalFoundries on its 22nm and 14nm-based systems.
IBM Designs the Chip
IBM will continue to design the chips, and Samsung will manufacture them. “Samsung 7nm technology provides IBM with a technology aligned to meeting the high performance, high reliability requirements necessary to meet the needs of IBM’s clients,” he said. “Specifically, 7nm EUV technology coupled with innovative IBM microprocessor design delivers unique system capabilities, including security and power management.”
The infrastructure vendor will use the 7nm chips in its Power Systems servers that target hybrid cloud and big data workloads, IBM Z and LinuxOne mainframes, its high-performance computing (HPC) systems, and its cloud offerings. The company plans to go to market with the 7nm chips in its products in the 2020 timeframe, Acocella said.