Intel Says 3D Chips Will Be In Phones This Year

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Intel’s Tri-Gate 3D technology will cut power and boost performance of devices using 22-nm Ivy Bridge chips

Intel has advanced its plans for “3D” chips, which improve performance by carrying  electrons along  raised vertical strips instead of two-dimensional flat tracks.

The chip maker announced a breakthrough in its Tri-Gate technology on 4 May, which will allow chips that operate at lower voltage with lower leakage, providing better performance and greater energy efficiency.

First discussed in 2002, Tri-Gate can be expected later this year in handheld devices, sensors  and big computers which use Intel’s “Ivy Bridge” chips made using 22-nm fabrication technology, and will eventually replace planar transistors completely

Low power, high performance… or both?

Tri-Gate gives chip designers the flexibility to choose transistors targeted for low power or high performance, depending on the application, said Intel Senior Fellow Mark Bohr, who’s been working on this project for a decade. “Of course, the Tri-Gates are very capable at both,” Bohr (pictured) told a press conference.

The 22nm 3-D Tri-Gate transistors, which will live first on Intel’s new Ivy Bridge chips, provide up to 37 percent performance increase at low voltage compared to Intel’s currently shipping 32nm planar transistors. This significant gain indicates that they are ideal for use in small handheld devices, which operate using less energy to “switch on and off, off and on,” Bohr said.

Alternatively, the new transistors consume less than half the power when at the same performance as 2-D planar transistors on 32nm chips, Bohr said.

This breakthrough process changes forever the IT processor-making business, Bohr claimed. Once Intel’s fabrication plants get rolling at full speed later this year to produce these new 22-nanometer chips, the flat designs will be phased out completely.

“There are no planar plans on our 22-nanometer (a nanometer is one-billionth of a meter) technology. It’s all Tri-Gate. We can wave goodbye to planar transistors,” Bohr said.

Support from Moore’s Law

The development will help Intel continue to track Moore’s law, in which Intel co-founder Gordon Moore predicted in 1965 that the number of transistors that can be placed inexpensively on an integrated circuit would double approximately every two years.

The prediction, originally published in a magazine article has been accurate for more than half a century and Intel now predicts it will continue until 2015 or 2020 or later.

Now aged 82, Moore could not be at the press event but sent along a statement welcoming Tri-Gate.

“For years we have seen limits to how small transistors can get,” Moore said. “This change in the basic structure is a truly revolutionary approach, and one that should allow Moore’s Law, and the historic pace of innovation, to continue.”

At the press conference, Intel demonstrated a 22nm Ivy Bridge microprocessor that will be the first high-volume chip to use the Tri-Gates. Bohr and Intel Executive Vice President and General Manager of the Architecture Group Dadi Perlmutter showed reporters and analysts how it worked in a netbook and in a small server.

Bohr also described the technology in a Youtube video.

In a still from Intel's Youtube video describing Tri-Gate, the right-hand image shows the narrow vertical strips of conductor the technology allows

This article is based on reporting from Chris Preimesberger, eWEEK.com

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