Moore's Law enters the third dimension as Intel hopes to find way into handheld devices

New 3-D Tri-Gate technology to be used in Ivy Bridge CPUs
A graphical representation of Intel's new Tri-Gate transistor.

A graphical representation of Intel's new Tri-Gate transistor.

Intel today announced that it will transition to Tri-Gate transistors in its new 22 nanometre microprocessors, which will allow it to build upward in a CPU, rather than stay flat. This will have the net effect of allowing Intel to cram a lot more transistors into its new CPUs, allowing it to keep up with Moore's Law.

Moore's Law, created by Intel co-founder Gordon Moore, states that the number of transistors in a silicon chip will double roughly every two years. There are physical limits as to how small transistors can get, which put the law in jeopardy unless new ways of packing transistors into silicone chips were devised. The new 3-D structure was first disclosed by Intel in 2002 and it will continue Moore's Law by allowing Intel to build vertically. Intel claims this new method will provide up to 37 per cent better performance at a low voltage compared to its 32nm transistors, which are used in the company's current Sandy Bridge processors. It also claims that the new technology will find its way into handheld devices.

In a press release today, Intel Senior Fellow Mark Bohr said "This milestone is going further than simply keeping up with Moore’s Law. The low-voltage and low-power benefits far exceed what we typically see from one process generation to the next. It will give product designers the flexibility to make current devices smarter and wholly new ones possible". It will allow more efficient and better-performing Atom chips to be built, which will allow device makers to create more highly integrated products.

A traditional transistor has a 2-D gate on the silicon that controls the flow of the current (the on and off state) through the transistors. With Tri-Gate technology, Intel says a silicon fin will rise from the silicon substrate, and it will have two gates on each side and one across the top. These will allow greater control over the current, allowing it to switch between on and off (or as close to off) states at a much faster rate. By using vertical fins, Intel says that transistors can be packed closer together in a CPU and the end result is better performance and lower power usage.

The first CPU to ship in volume with the 3-D Tri-Gate transistors will be Ivy Bridge and Intel currently has working models in laptop, desktop and server computers. It's slated for high-volume production by the end of this year.

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