Computing Revolution: 3-D Transistor Means Smaller & Faster Gadgets
A microscopic building block of modern electronics has gotten a 3-D makeover that promises to revolutionize the smartphones, smart cars and even smart cities of the 21st century. Intel announced that its first 3-D transistor is ready to enter mass production to power the next generation of smaller, smarter and faster computing devices.
The breakthrough may relieve fears about human ingenuity having reached its limits in shrinking the size of microchips to accommodate swarms of household gadgets and devices, not to mention modern cities and military hardware. It also gives a boost to Gordon E. Moore, the Intel co-founder who coined the idea "Moore's Law" to describe how innovation would double the transistors on an integrated circuit every two years.
"For years we have seen limits to how small transistors can get," Moore said in a statement. "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."
The world of the digital age has relied on microchips that each have millions or billions of transistors. Such tiny devices act as gates that cut across the flow of current in a flat strip of silicon. The best transistors switch on and off as fast as possible, even as they maximize the current flow in the on position and shut down as much of the same flow in the off position to conserve power.
More than 100 million of Intel's new Tri-Gate transistors can fit onto the head of a pin. But that's not the only benefit of entering the third dimension – the new transistor gained a 37 percent performance boost while using 50 percent less power.
Engineers achieved that one-two combo of better performance and greater energy efficiency by turning the flat channels into 3-D fins. That allows the transistor gate to wrap around the 3-D fin and have more control over the flow of current.
As a result, Intel can continue shrinking the size of transistors while making them better. The first mass-production chip to make use of such transistors has been codenamed Ivy Bridge.
Ordinary consumers can expect smaller, thinner computing devices such as laptops, tablets and smartphones. Engineers could also cram more computing power into new cars and appliances, as well as create smarter drones and missiles for the military.
In other words, expect life in the 21st century to get even faster.