Intel's tiny new transistors portend 10-GHz PCs

The new CMOS transistors feature structures just 0.03 microns wide and three atomic layers thick, says Rob Willoner, a market analyst in the technology and manufacturing group at Intel. He refers to them as 30 Nanometer Transistors.

How small is that? Small enough for one transistor to fit inside a DNA chain, he says. A vertical pile of 100,000 would be about as thick as a sheet of paper; 30 million would stack up to about one inch.

The transistor's miniscule size means you can pack more of them on a chip. More transistors per chip lets you achieve greater processing power, he says.

PCs with supercomputer power

Intel will use this technology to make a future processor with as many as 400 million transistors, running at 10 GHz and consuming less than one volt of power, Willoner says. Today's P4 has the most transistors of any modern processor with 42 million, and the Pentium III has 29 million.

Squeezing that many transistors on a single chip can dramatically increase processing power, Willoner says. Future processors could complete 2 million calculations in the time it takes a speeding bullet to travel one inch, or as many as 400 million calculations while you blink your eye, he says.

He expects people will buy $US1500 PCs that possess the processing power equivalent to today's billion-dollar supercomputers in the near future. In practical terms, this means computers will become significantly more powerful and easier to use.

For example, when you travel you might use such a computer to communicate, because it could instantly translate your comments into another language, he says.

The power of real-time computation of speech could also lead to significantly better voice recognition technologies, so your PC could accept complex vocal commands, he says. Or instead, you might control the computer through your gestures.

Other possibilities include improved automated PC-based security, he says. Instead of requiring you to manually deactivate a security system using a keypad and code, a high-powered system could actually recognise you and disarm itself, he says.

Maintaining Moore's Law

What's more, Intel's future transistor technology means the company would continue producing processors that keep pace with Moore's Law.

Pronounced by Intel co-founder Gordon Moore, it states that the number of transistors that can be placed on a sliver of silicon will double every two years. Moore issued the statement in 1965, and Intel executives say it has remained true since the release of its 4004 processor in 1971. That chip's transistor count: 2300.

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Tom Mainelli

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