The low-down on Intel's 3D tri-gate transistor

What's all this fuss about Intel's '3D chips'?

Intel has announced that its future processor generations will be based upon a completely new transistor design known as the 3D tri-gate transistor. A transistor is essentially a high speed switch designed to be in either an “On” state when current is flowing, or an “Off” state when current flow is stopped. The speed at which the transistor can switch between on and off states is also a critical factor in determining the clock speed of a CPU which obviously has a significant impact upon its performance.

The benefits of the new transistor design when compared to the old 2D “planar” design are significant in terms of both performance and power consumption. The innovative 3D design reduces current leakage and allows chips to operate at lower voltages. Intel’s press release states that they are ready to proceed with high volume manufacturing of its new “Ivy Bridge” chips using these revolutionary new transistors, in combination with a lithography shrink from the current 32nm node to 22nm. These “Ivy Bridge” chips could be ready for mass production by the end of this year.

Important performance projections from Intel include: Up to 37 per cent performance increase at low voltages when compared with Intel’s previous generation 32nm planar transistors. Less than half the power consumption, when operating at the same performance level as 2D planar transistors on 32nm chips.

These numbers appear quite staggering, and have incredible implications for different segments of the CPU market. At the high end performance segment, it is anticipated that much higher clock speeds will be achievable, and speculation that mainstream “Ivy Bridge” CPU offerings could easily exceed the 4GHz barrier have already started to circulate. I’m sure that all the overclockers in the world will be eagerly anticipating further details of these chips as the end of the year draws closer! I personally believe that the low power segment will benefit greatly from this new technology also, and may allow Intel serious penetration into areas such as smartphones and tablet PCs.

Intel’s announcement may certainly take the wind out of AMD’s sails. AMD is set to launch its all new “Bulldozer” line of CPUs in a couple of months’ time. If these CPUs prove to be uncompetitive with Intel’s current “Sandy Bridge” offerings, then Intel’s domination of the high end segment will only strengthen with the launch of “Ivy Bridge” The low power consumption characteristics of the new 3D tri-gate transistor will also allow Intel the opportunity to claim back the title that its Atom CPU lineup recently lost to the new AMD “Fusion” family of Accelerated Processing Units.

I know one thing for sure. There are definitely interesting times to come, and I for one, will be closely following these developments and the impact they have upon our industry.

Glenn Howlett is the general manager of DCA Computer Technologies a computer retailer and support provider. Read more articles at the DCA Computers blog, follow DCA Computers on Twitter and become a fan on Facebook.

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