Science Technology - Published on Wednesday, 04 May 2011 20:07 Written by Jacob Hugosson
Intel's has announced a breakthrough it has been keeping a secret for the coming 22nm node. Besides having shrunk the gate width it has also redesigned the transistor. Intel says it has added one more dimension to the design and been working on this over a decade - but what does it mean?
Shrinking a processor or any circuit really comes with many advantages; lower production costs, lower power consumption and better performance. The disadvantages are more expensive technologies and equipment, and the current leakage increase with every node. Intel's 3D transistor is the answer to this, or as Intel says; it has added the third dimention to the transistor.
When Intel started the development of 22nm it realized quickly that using flat transistors wasn't an option since it couldn't get the results it was hoping for. The solution was the 3D transistor, which is old technology that has never been implemented in practice, due to the difficulties of implementing it. First we will look at this and discuss how it works briefly.
A transistor can either be On or Off and when it is On you want as many electrons as possible to pass through and when Off as few as possible. A transistor can turn Off and On billions of times per second. A processor overclocked to 4 GHz have transistors switching state 4 billion times per second!
As we mentioned above the leakage increase when gates become smaller, which simply means the electrons do what they please instead of doing what they are told, which leads to increased power consumption and heat emissions. This is a problem that is becoming bigger and bigger with every step and to remedy this we have many technologies like Bulk, Silicon-on-Insulator (SOI), Low-K, High-K (HK), Metal Gate (MG) to mention the best known. This time Intel decided to use the 3D transistor.
Illustration of 32nm plane transistor (left) vs. 22nm 3D transistor (right)
The 3D transistor turns the flow of electrons Off and On from three directions, illustrated by the picture above. This change resulted in 50% lower power consumption and 37% better performance with lower voltage, simply put better performance/watt. The first processors using the new manufacturing process are code-named Ivy Bridge and is in the lab. They offer a short presentation of the new processors that is slated for arrival in early 2012.
Intel's Ivy Bridge architecture is planned to launch in the first half of 2012 to replace the mid-range platform Sandy Bridge. The processors from the Ivy Bridge family using the same base architecture as Sandy Bridge, but beside a new and more efficient transistor technology the new chips are expected to bring improved graphics and second generation Intel Quick Sync technology.