Intel creates faster and more energy-efficient processors.
- May/June 2012
- By David H. Freedman
The new transistors (above) have vertical current-carrying channels. In older designs (inset), the channels lie flat under the gates. Credit: Intel
In an effort to keep squeezing more components onto silicon chips, Intel has begun mass-producing processors based on 3-D transistors. The move not only extends the life of Moore's Law (the prediction that the number of transistors per chip will double roughly every two years) but could help significantly increase the energy efficiency and speed of processors.
The on-and-off flow of current in conventional chips is controlled by an electric field generated by a so-called gate that sits on top of a wide, shallow conducting channel embedded in a silicon substrate. With the 3-D transistors, that current-carrying channel has been flipped upright, rising off the surface of the chip. The channel material can thus be in contact with the gate on both its sides and its top, leaving little of the channel exposed to interference from stray charges in the substrate below. In earlier transistors, these charges interfered with the gate's ability to block current, resulting in a constant flow of leakage current.
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