#92: 3-D Chips Make Computers Faster

New waffle-like construction of chips does more with less.

By Harry McCracken|Thursday, December 29, 2011


Image courtesy of Intel

The inexorable trend in electronics for the past four decades has been to do more with less—to make transistors ever smaller in order to squeeze more processing power into a given space on a microchip. Chip designers are now running into a real-estate crunch, however, so Intel is doing what any densely settled city would do if it needed to accommodate more people in the same area: building upward.

In conventional transistors, flat conductive channels carry electricity to gates that switch a current on or off, creating the ones and zeros that allow computers to process information. Intel’s new Tri-Gate transistors, first demonstrated last May, replace those flat channels with thin, rectangular silicon pillars, or “fins,” that rise above the surface of the chip. Electricity flows through the transistor on all three sides of the fin, allowing gates to wrap around the fin instead of touching only one face of the conductive channel. This gives the gates better control over the flow of electricity, boosting the transistor’s performance by 37 percent. Intel says Tri-Gate transistors consume less than half the power used by conventional transistors and can be packed more closely together on a chip.

Look for 3-D transistors to begin showing up in PCs in early 2012 and in servers and cell phones soon after that.


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