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Intel breakthrough could cut power consumption of chips by half

Louise Bateman
4th May 2011
Intel Corporation, the world’s leading chipmaker, today announced a major technological breakthrough that could halve the power consumption of its microchips.
The design breakthrough introduces to the world of electronics for the first time transistors with a three-dimensional structure. Transistors are the microscopic building blocks found in microchips that power everything from computers and mobile phones to cars, spacecraft, household appliances and other everyday devices. Up until now transistors have been limited by a two-dimensional structure.

Energy efficiency gains
Intel said its 3-D transistor design called Tri-Gate brings unprecedented gains in energy efficiency as well as performance. The new 22 nanometre transistors provide up to 37 per cent performance increase at low voltage compared to Intel’s 32 nanometre planar transistors and consume less than half the power when at the same performance as 2-D planar transistors on 32 nanometre chips. 

"The performance gains and power savings of Intel’s unique 3-D Tri-Gate transistors are like nothing we’ve seen before," said Mark Bohr, Intel senior fellow. "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."

Moore's Law
Intel first revealed its 3-D transistor design in 2002. The significance of today’s announcement is that it is now possible to deploy it in mass produced chips.
The breakthrough means transistors continue to get smaller, cheaper and more energy efficient, in accordance with Moore’s Law, the prediction by Intel co-founder Gordon Moore back in 1965 that roughly every two year’s transistor density will double. 

Revolutionary design
The 3-D Tri-Gate transistor replaces the traditional 'flat’ two-dimensional planar gate with a super thin three-dimensional silicon fin that rises up vertically from the silicon substrate. A gate on each of the three sides of fin rather than just one, as is the case with the 2-D planar transistor, enables as much current to flow as possible when the transistor is in the 'on’ state, leading to better performance, and as close to zero as possible when it is in the 'off’ state, minimising power. It also enables the transistor to switch very quickly between the two states, leading to better performance still. 

"Intel's scientists and engineers have once again reinvented the transistor, this time utilising the third dimension," said 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."

Intel will start mass-producing 22 nanometre chips using the 3-D Tri-Gate transistor design later this year, with their introduction in computers expected by early 2012.

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Intel breakthrough could cut power consumption of chips by half
Intel's new 22 nanometre transistors can consume up to half the power of traditional ones
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