Intel goes 3-D

Thought not yet targeted at 3-D TV, Intel’s new 22nm transistor combines small size with a 3-D construction. Shown in a microscopic photo in Figure 1, the new transistor represents a fundamentally different construction technology for future microprocessor families: the combination of 3-D construction and extremely small 22nm design. Note especially the higher ridge cross connections. These represent the new transistor’s gate, and the device’s source and drain are on opposite sides of the gate. The new process is said to continue the pace of Moore's Law.

Now let’s compare a 2-D transistor, which is shown in Figure 2, to Intel’s new 3-D transistor construction.

In Figure 3, the left illustration shows a typical 2-D transistor. The right drawing illustrates Intel's new 3-D Tri-Gate transistor. The yellow portion indicates the transistor’s gate, which separates the source and drain. But in the 3-D version, the gate extends above the horizontal plane, which contains the source and drain. This marks a dramatic change in the fundamental structure of the computer chip.

By replacing the normal flat channel for conducting electrons with a fin-shaped structure surrounded on three sides, the gate becomes larger and can more efficiently turn the current on and off. Also, the larger real estate provided by the 3-D gate permits higher current flow between the source and drain during the "on" state and less current to leak when the transistor is switched "off."

The company predicts that by using the smaller, 3-D transistor, it can design more powerful processors with higher power efficiency, which will extend to a wide range of products.

"That (3-D construction) is an unprecedented gain," said Mark Bohr, who holds the title of Intel fellow and leads its development of new manufacturing processes. "We've never achieved that kind of performance gain at low voltage."

Initial products will bring ultra-low power benefits to handheld devices, including smart phones and tablets. The chips will also deliver improved performance in high-end processors. Intel plans to use the new 22nm design in its line of Atom system-on-a-chip (SoC) designs. SoC products based on the 22nm 3-D Tri-Gate transistors will hit sub-1mW idle power, resulting in very low power requirements for SoCs.

At Intel’s May 2 press conference, the company demonstrated a computer using the 22nm-based microprocessor, code-named Ivy Bridge. The CPU represents the first high-volume SoC that will use the 3-D transistors. Intel executives said the chips would initially be targeted for high-end desktop computers and server systems to arrive in early 2012.

With this as background, can 3-D broadcast equipment based on 3-D transistors be far behind?

Small facts

More than 100 million 22nm transistors could fit on the head of a pin.

More than 6 million 22nm transistor could fit in the period at the end of this sentence.

It would take more than 4000 22nm transistors, stacked side by side, to equal the width of a human hair.

A 22nm-based CPU is 4000 times faster and each transistor uses 1/5000th as much energy than the company’s first microprocessor, which was introduced in 1971.