Higher processor performance, with greater power efficiency, is promised by Intel's research in transistor design, writes Alun Williams.
As opposed to traditional 'flat' transistors, Intel suggests a future for a 3D design. Transistors, of course, are the mini On-Off switches that are combined to build microprocessors.
According to researchers, the 'triple-gated transistor design' raises the transistor above its silicon base, allowing electronic signals to travel on top and along both vertical sidewalls. The analogy which Intel uses is that a one-lane road is turned into a three-lane highway, without using more space.
Essentially, the new technology develops the management of transistors within smaller spaces. The key inhibitor to miniaturisation is leakage of current, which means increasing power is required for correct functioning, which in turn can generate unacceptable levels of heat...
The new design revels in the title of 'high performance non-planar tri-gate architecture'.
No Intel story is complete without a reference to Moore's law, which states that chip capacity will double every couple of years. And the significance of the latest findings is that it will help Intel fulfil this law, even as the industry hits the barriers of how it is physically possible to manipulate signals in silicon.
'Our research shows that below 30 nanometers, the basic physics of the flat, single-gate planar transistor leaks too much power to meet our future performance goals,' states Dr. Gerald Marcyk, director of the Components Research Lab at Intel. 'The tri-gate transistor design will allow Intel to build ultra-small transistors that achieve high performance with low power and continue driving the pace of Moore's Law.'
Twenty per cent improvements in performance - in addition to the smaller footprints - are anticipated by Intel. But don't expect the new technology just yet. Its ETA is anything between 5 to 10 years.
Last week Intel announced a 90-nanometer manufacturing process - due in 2003 - that will help the company fulfil Moore's Law in the more immediate future.
At the recent Intel Developers Forum, the company showcased Madison', the next-generation Itanium server CPU that is built from 500m transistors. Given that Madison is scheduled to appear within 2-3 years, it can be seen that - by Moore's Law, yet again - we can expect TeraHertz computing a further couple of years down the line.
To put this in context, the current Pentium 4 processors contain approx. 55m transistors.
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