Understanding the nanometer technology: Why should you care?

Chipset manufacturers are focusing on narrower transistor fabrication technique. For an instance, Samsung's Exynos 8895 and Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 is a leap from 14 nm fabrication to the 10nm. Narrow fabrication technique definitely offers a larger number of transistors to accommodate in the same area. Is that is? All those chipset makers are focusing only on accommodating an increased numbers of transistors in the chipset? And what will be the complications regarding this technology?

Honor X9b Ad
Honor X9b Ad

Qualcomm released its flagship chipset Snapdragon 835 and Samsung is going to bring new flagship phone Galaxy S8 with Exynos 8895 (also with Snapdragon 835 variant) chipset on it. Both the processors mentioned are designed in 10nm technology. MediaTek is also working with TSMC to bring out a chipset with 7nm fabrication. These are the smartphone processors. The computer chipset maker Intel and AMD are focusing on even smaller nanometer technology than the fore-mentioned sizes. We are often befuddled with the terms explained regarding the processors and the nanometer technology in is one of them to bother us. So without any further ado, let’s focus on it.

What is nanometer technology?

Before jumping straight to the nanometer technology, first of all, it is necessary to know that any chip, IC, processor, memory or GPU is made from the integration of a large number of transistors. Since such chips are made with the integration of a large number of transistors inside it, we call them ICs (Integrated circuits) in general. And according to the number of the transistors integrated to make such chipsets, they are classified as SSI (small scale integration), LSI (Large Scale Integration) or VLSI (Very Large Scale Integration). In the ICs, there are blocks or modules of the transistors with subtle connections between them.

A transistor essentially consists of Drain, Source, and Gate. There is a path to flow electrons (and hence current) between the Source and Drain, which is called channel. Gate is responsible for controlling the width of the channel. Broader the channel, slow will be the speed of electrons flowing in the channel and vice versa. The nanometer technology mentioned in a processor is the measure of average distance between the channels.

Smaller the better. But how?

Smaller the nanometer distance between the channels faster will be the communication between the two transistors. This is a general perception. However, there are additional advantages of it and some of them are discussed below.

  1. Each transistor used on the chipset will have a smaller size. So larger number of transistors can be packed inside the chipset having the same dimension as that of chipset fabricated with larger nanometer distance.
  2. Facility to fabricate a large number of transistors in a small chipset offers more features to be packed into it.
  3. Smaller transistors are faster, which lets them work at higher clock rates. This improves performance.
  4. It also results in the reduction of Gate Oxide thickness, which in turn reduces the transistor capacitance and hence the voltage/current required to charge capacitance. So the overall power consumption decreases. As a result, the efficiency increases.

Possible drawbacks

Keeping the advantages aside, there are also some downsides of smaller nanometer technology. Some of them are discussed below.

  1. Heat dissipation: – With the smaller size, the heat produced from the transistors will have a smaller area to dissipate and hence to cool. This may cause overheating of the chipset inviting accidents.
  2. Quantum Tunneling: – With the smaller size, the size will be comparable to the atomic size. Because of the smaller gaps, some electrons may take a leap from one place to another for no reasons. This phenomenon is known as Quantum Tunneling. This may cause corruption of data and malfunctioning of chipsets.