When a processor manufacturer announces a new product, many people soon seek to know about the nanometers, identified by the acronym nm. This measure plays an important role in overall component performance, whether on computers or mobile devices. Below, I’ll explain to you what the nanometers mean in processors.
Nanometer (nm) is a unit of measurement standardized by the International System, being used to express dimensions on the microscopic scale. A single nanometer is equivalent to one billionth of 1 meter, the same as 0.0000000001 m on a numerical scale.
In terms of comparison, a sheet of paper is typically 100 nanometers thick, while a human hair is between 80,000 and 100,000 nm. The flu virus, for example, is around 30 nm in diameter.
Therefore, nanometers are used to identify the size of things that are very small, difficult (or impossible) to be seen with the naked eye.
What is the role of nanometers in processors?
When we say that a processor has 7 nanometers, for example, it means that, inside, the distance between the transistor terminals is exactly 7 nanometers.
It is extremely important that this distance is as small as possible. This is because within a processor there are billions of transistors that are responsible for data processing, basically functioning as keys: they can be open to release power or closed to prevent the flow of load.
The processors are already small, with even smaller transistors, so the shorter the distance between the components the better the performance, because there will be more free space to insert millions of other transistors without having to create a larger model. It is important to note that manufacturers avoid large chips because they typically tend to present thermal problems.
In addition to performance, a smaller range of nanometers also offers better energy savings, as the distance between electrons is shorter and there is less resistance. That is, a 7 nm processor, for example, can be more powerful and efficient in terms of electrical consumption than a 10 nm processor.
Where did we get to? Is it possible to evolve further?
To get an idea, in 1987 it was common to produce processors with 800 nm architecture. Years later, more precisely in 2001, the industry already delivered chips based on 130 nm.
In 2018, we saw an even bigger jump: TSMC, one of the largest manufacturers in the industry, started building a factory capable of making 5 nm chips. This rate is used on top-of-the-line models from Qualcomm and Apple, such as the Snapdragon 888 and A15 Bionic, respectively.
Seeking to evolve further, TSMC itself has already announced that it has plans to develop 3-nanometer processors. The company promises a performance increase of between 10% and 15% compared to the 5 nm process, in addition to an improvement in energy consumption of 30%.
Although it is good news, this decrease should not happen infinitely, since at some point the distance between transistors will be so small that it will approach dangerously the physical dimensions of atoms. If this happens, the laws of physics change to quantum laws, eliminating many aspects of the electricity and endurance I mentioned earlier.
However, the industry is constantly evolving, especially the chip manufacturing industry. Therefore, only time will tell how many nanometers can still be reduced in the creation of a new processor. Regardless of the value, there will be many benefits for both mobile devices (mobile phones and tablets) and computers.