Intel's New 3-D Chips: Leaner, Meaner, and More Mobile
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By Sara Jameson
After more than a decade in development, Intel's three dimensional
"Tri-Gate" transistor design will finally be used in a mass-produced
microprocessor, the company has announced.
While Intel processors are found in about 80% of the world's
computers, they do lag behind in mobile devices such as smartphones and
tablet computers. Most of these devices use chipsets from Intel rival
ARM Holdings, a UK based company, that designs and licenses the design
but does not actually manufacture the chipset.
Intel will use this new manufacturing production technology to lure
mobile device makers to use their one stop shop chips, they hope.
Transistors are the basic building block element of computer
hardware. They are the physical mechanism that translates the binary
ones and zeroes into "on" and "off" switches for electrical current to
flow through a circuit. In a basic transistor, the electrons flow in
where they encounter a "gate" that can act as a resistor if it has been
set to do so, and then flow out.
Intel has unveiled an innovative production technology that it says
will allow it to cram more transistors onto microchips for years to
come. The "major technical breakthrough" is a 22nm microprocessor
codenamed Ivy Bridge, which will be the first high-volume chip to use
"Intel's scientists and engineers have once again reinvented the
transistor, this time utilizing the third dimension," Intel CEO Paul
Otellini said in a press release. "Amazing, world-shaping devices will
be created from this capability as we advance Moore's Law into new
Ivy Bridge is a promising breakthrough Intel says because
the new transistors will provide up to a 37% performance increase and
consume less than half the power than their 2-D counterparts. The
company also says the 3-D transistors will be ideal for use in small
handheld devices since they use less electricity. Less electricity
yields longer battery life with fewer recharges and a lighter overall
footprint and weight.
Will the new 3-D transister design permit Intel to catch up to
ARM in the mobile race? Perhaps if they can perfect the manufacturing
process in a timely manner. There has been no announced delivery date or
availability of the chip for mobile devices as of yet - only for
desktops and laptops. The production of its new chips for PCs and
servers would start by the end of 2011.
So while Ivy Bridge will help Intel extend Moore's Law and give the
company a significant advantage over its competitors in the more
traditional PC processors market, it's disappointing that the company
isn't offering more details on its game plan for mobile.
"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 in a statement . "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. We believe
this breakthrough will extend Intel's lead even further over the rest
of the semiconductor industry."
This new production technology may finally put a fork in AMD as well.