Moore’s Law safe into future as 3D ‘Ivy Bridge’ arrives

6 May 2011

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Moore’s Law, which says the number of transistors that can be placed on an IC doubles every two years is guaranteed long into the future, Intel senior management have told Siliconrepublic.com. For the first time since the invention of silicon transistors more than 50 years ago, transistors using 3D structure will enter high-volume manufacturing.

The general manager of Intel’s 4,000-strong operation in Ireland, Eamonn Sinnott, told Siliconrepublic.com that introduction of a 3D transistor design called Tri-Gate will be revolutionary and starting with the forthcoming ‘Ivy Bridge’ chip will transform chips used in all devices, from servers to personal computers, phones and much more.

Intel will introduce a revolutionary 3D transistor design called Tri-Gate, first disclosed by Intel in 2002, into high-volume manufacturing at the 22-nanometer (nm) node in an Intel chip codenamed "Ivy Bridge." A nanometer is one-billionth of a meter.

“This is revolutionary and shows Moore’s Law is continuing,” Sinnott said. “This will ensure we can continue to double the number of transistors within smaller and smaller places. The best way to think about it is to think about the way city planners were able to prepare for denser populations by building skyscrapers in cities.

“We expect these chips from the outset to yield 37pc better performance and use half the power.”

This incredible gain means they are ideal for use in small handheld devices, which operate using less energy to "switch" back and forth. Alternatively, the new transistors consume less than half the power when at the same performance as 2D planar transistors on 32nm chips.

The reinvention of the transistor

Intel said the 3D Tri-Gate transistors are a reinvention of the transistor. The traditional "flat" two-dimensional planar gate is replaced with an incredibly thin three-dimensional silicon fin that rises up vertically from the silicon substrate. Control of current is accomplished by implementing a gate on each of the three sides of the fin – two on each side and one across the top – rather than just one on top, as is the case with the 2D planar transistor.

The additional control enables as much transistor current flowing as possible when the transistor is in the "on" state (for performance), and as close to zero as possible when it is in the "off" state (to minimise power), and enables the transistor to switch very quickly between the two states (again, for performance).

In January, it emerged that Intel would begin a substantial new US$500m construction project at its Leixlip campus, where it already employs around 4,000 people. The project will prepare the Leixlip facility for the future and to handle the production of technologies that may not have been invented yet.

The project will create 200 high-level technology jobs, as well as 850 construction jobs. Intel has invested close to US$7bn in Ireland since establishing operations here in 1989.

“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.”

Or as Sinnott puts it: “Moore’s Law is continuing – we look forward to the revolution.”

3-D Tri-Gate

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Editor John Kennedy is an award-winning technology journalist.

editorial@siliconrepublic.com