Wow. We were just introduced to iMac with Sandy Bridge processors on Tuesday; now it’s time to start looking forward to Ivy Bridge-equipped Mac. Intel (http://www.intel.com) says that, “for the first time since the invention of silicon transistors over 50 years ago, transistors using a three-dimensional structure will be put into high-volume manufacturing.”
Intel will introduce a 3-D transistor design called Tri-Gate, first disclosed by Intel in 2002, into high-volume manufacturing at the 22-nanometer (nm) node in an Intel chip codenamed “Ivy Bridge.” A nanometer is one-billionth of a meter.
The three-dimensional Tri-Gate transistors represent a fundamental departure from the two-dimensional planar transistor structure that has powered not only all computers, mobile phones and consumer electronics to-date, but also the electronic controls within cars, spacecraft, household appliances, medical devices and virtually thousands of other everyday devices for decades.
“Intel’s scientists and engineers have once again reinvented the transistor, this time utilizing the third dimension,” says Intel President and CEO Paul Otellini. “Amazing, world-shaping devices will be created from this capability as we advance Moore’s Law into new realms.”
Scientists have long recognized the benefits of a 3-D structure for sustaining the pace of Moore’s Law as device dimensions become so small that physical laws become barriers to advancement, he says. The key to today’s breakthrough is Intel’s ability to deploy its novel 3-D Tri-Gate transistor design into high-volume manufacturing, ushering in the next era of Moore’s Law and opening the door to a new generation of innovations across a broad spectrum of devices, according to Otellini.
If you’re not aware of it, Moore’s Law is a forecast for the pace of silicon technology development that states that roughly every two years transistor density will double, while increasing functionality and performance and decreasing costs. It has become the basic business model for the semiconductor industry for more than 40 years.
Intel’s 3-D Tri-Gate transistors will purportedly enable chips to operate at lower voltage with lower leakage, providing an unprecedented combination of improved performance and energy efficiency compared to previous state-of-the-art transistors. The capabilities give chip designers the flexibility to choose transistors targeted for low power or high performance, depending on the application.
Intel says the 22nm 3-D Tri-Gate transistors provide up to 37% performance increase at low voltage versus Intel’s 32nm planar transistors. This gain means that they are ideal for use in small handheld devices, which operate using less energy to “switch” back and forth. Alternatively, the new transistors consume less than half the power when at the same performance as 2-D planar transistors on 32nm chips.
Sustaining the progress of Moore’s Law becomes even more complex with the 22nm generation. Anticipating this, Intel research scientists in 2002 invented what they called a Tri-Gate transistor, named for the three sides of the gate. Today’s announcement follows further years of development in Intel’s research-development-manufacturing pipeline, and marks the implementation of this work for high-volume manufacturing.
The 3-D Tri-Gate transistors are a reinvention of the transistor. The traditional “flat” two-dimensional planar gate is replaced with a thin three-dimensional silicon fin that rises up vertically from the silicon substrate. Control of current is accomplished by implementing a gate on each of the three sides of the fin — two on each side and one across the top — rather than just one on top, as is the case with the 2-D planar transistor. The additional control enables as much transistor current flowing as possible when the transistor is in the “on” state (for performance), and as close to zero as possible when it is in the “off” state (to minimize power), and enables the transistor to switch very quickly between the two states (again, for performance), according to Intel.
Just as skyscrapers let urban planners optimize available space by building upward, Intel’s 3-D Tri-Gate transistor structure provides a way to manage density. Since these fins are vertical in nature, transistors can be packed closer together, a critical component to the technological and economic benefits of Moore’s Law. For future generations, designers also have the ability to continue growing the height of the fins to get even more performance and energy-efficiency gains.
The 3-D Tri-Gate transistor will be implemented in the company’s upcoming manufacturing process, called the 22nm node, in reference to the size of individual transistor features. More than six million 22nm Tri-Gate transistors could fit in the period at the end of this sentence.
Today at a media event, Intel demonstrated the world’s first 22nm microprocessor, codenamed “Ivy Bridge,” working in a laptop, server and desktop computer. Ivy Bridge-based Intel Core family processors will be the first high-volume chips to use 3-D Tri-Gate transistors. Ivy Bridge is slated for high-volume production readiness by the end of this year.
Interestingly, “CNET” (http://macte.ch/KAo8X) quotes Kirk Skaugen, a vice president at the Intel Architecture Group, as saying that, ” “Intel is going to support USB 3.0 in the 2012 client platform. We’re going to support Thunderbolt capability. We believe that they’re complementary.”
So now we can begin anticipating Ivy Bridge Macs for 2012. With USB 3.0? (I doubt that; Apple’s eyeing Thunderbolt solely for the future, in my opinion.)
And perhaps in iOS devices as well. Intel says that Tri-Gate will help speed up development of the Intel Atom. Obviously, the company plans to make this a competitor to the ARM and an enticement to Apple for its mobile devices.
— Dennis Sellers