Advancing the silicon transistor has always been a process of addition and subtraction: add power and efficiency while making the unit itself ever smaller. In fact, the idea that technological advancement would allow the number of transistors able to be placed on an integrated circuit to double about every two years—originally posited by Intel co-founder Greg Moore in 1965—has held true for so long as to be accepted as Moore’s Law. This has been important because the silicon transistor is essentially the building block for modern consumer electronics—the smaller and more powerful we can make them, the smaller, more powerful, and more capable we can make our personal tech.
Recently, it looked as if we were reaching our limits in moving the traditional planar (that is, two-dimensional) transistor forward. Moore’s Law, it seemed, was in danger, and with it our ability to keep up our blistering pace of technological advancement. Thanks to a game-changing announcement last week by Intel, however, Moore’s Law may now continue to hold true for years to come.
Intel’s Tri-Gate 3-D transistor is, as the name suggests, a three-dimensional transistor–one that uses a revolutionary “fin” structure to provide conducting channels on three sides, as opposed to the single conducting channel with a planar transistor. This has several advantages: First, it maximizes current flow in the “on” state while bringing it as close to zero as possible in the “off” state for highly increased efficiency at all times; second, it can transfer between the two states with blistering speed, switching between on and off over 100 billion times per second; third, performance can be boosted by connecting the transistors together, and thanks to their vertical structure, a high number can be concentrated together on an integrated circuit. (Did we mention that the Tri-Gate 3-Ds are a mere 22 nanometers, meaning over 100 million can fit on the head of a pin?) Intel promises a 37 percent performance increase at low voltage as compared to its larger, 32 nm 2-D transistors—all while using only half the power.
The Tri-Gate 3-D transistors will go into mass production as part of an upcoming microprocessor codenamed “Ivy Bridge”; the first roll-out will be within the Core family processors later this year before moving into smaller handheld devices where its efficiency, especially at low-power usage, will be best suited.
Read more about Tri-Gate 3D and Ivy Bridge at TechConnect.