Enterprise IT Consultant Views on Technologies and Trends

May 5 2011   1:04AM GMT

Intel’s new 22nm 3D transistor to put it ahead of competitors

Sasirekha R Profile: Sasirekha R

New 22nm 3D transistor to propel Intel ahead of competitors

Intel has announced that it is about to put its 22nm (nanometer), 3-D transistor into volume production by the end of 2011. Intel demonstrated a computer using a micro-processor code-named Ivy Bridge, which is the first high-volume chip that will use 3-D transistors. Intel’s 3-D transistors technology at 22 nm is a radically different one compared to the currently used 2-D (planar) devices. According to Intel, 3-D Tri-Gate transistor and the ability to manufacture it in high volume, mark a dramatic change in the fundamental structure of the computer chip.

The smaller the transistor, the more power efficient, and hence better. For decades, the transistors using planar technology was continuously shrinking and packing more power. But Moore’s Law seemed to have hit a road block as in planar technology, as the features become so small that it started creating electrostatic problems – making controlling the switching of transistors difficult.

The solution is the 3-D or non-planar transistor structure, also referred to as FinFET (Field-Effect Transistor) – where the conducting channel is wrapped by a thin silicon “fin”, which forms the gate of the device enabling better control switching. Intel’s 3-D Tri-Gate transistor uses three gates wrapped around the silicon channel in a 3-D structure, enabling an unprecedented combination of performance and energy efficiency. Intel says that the transition to 3-D would continue the pace of technology advancement, fueling Moore’s Law for years to come.

It is interesting to note, that while AMD, IBM and Motorola refer to the term “FinFET” for their double-gate development efforts, Intel seems to be avoiding using this term for their tri-gate solution (though outsiders insist that it is the same approach). Anyway, the credit for successfully manufacturing such a transistor is given to Intel as it is not a simple task.

The new technology enables innovative micro-architectures, System on Chip (SoC) designs, and new products-from servers and PCs to smart phones, and innovative consumer products. The 3-D transistor is designed to provide unique ultra-low power benefits for use in handheld devices while also improving performance for high-end processors. These transistors are efficient at low voltages and the Intel Atom processor design team is working on innovate architectural approaches for to maximize the benefit of the 3-D Tri-Gate transistor technology. And, Intel’s future SoC products based on the 22nm 3-D Tri-Gate transistors will hit sub 1 mW idle power-for incredibly low-power SoCs.

Intel believes that this breakthrough would enable it to lead in powering products, from the world’s fastest supercomputers to very small mobile handhelds. Experts tend to agree and predict that the shift to tri-gates could propel Intel at least three years ahead of competitors. As the 22nm technology with tri-gates is denser, uses less power and provides longer battery life, it is expected to enable Intel to become a challenger in the mobile devices sector also.

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