Intel transistor breakthrough

Intel has unveiled a new design for transistors and claims it could vastly improve transistor speed, power efficiency and heat...

Intel has unveiled a new design for transistors and claims it could vastly improve transistor speed, power efficiency and heat dissipation, writes Daniel Thomas.

The chip maker said the breakthrough, coupled with recent Intel announcements on faster and smaller transistors, will enable applications such as real-time face recognition, voice-controlled computing without keyboards, and smaller computing devices with higher battery performance and longer life between charges.

The design is based on silicon-on-insulator technology pioneered by IBM. At the time of the technology's launch Intel rejected it as being underpowered. Although IBM denied this assertion, pointing out that putting theory into practice is a different proposition.

As chip designs become smaller and faster a number of fundamental problems have to be addressed by manufacturers regarding power consumption, heat generation and current leakage.

For example, using existing methods of semiconductor design would eventually lead to processors that are simply too hot for use in desktop computers and servers, Intel said. These limitations could prevent new chip designs from being implemented in smaller computers such as mobile PCs and handheld devices.

"Smaller and faster just is not good enough anymore," said Gerald Marcyk, director of components research at Intel. "Power and heat are the biggest issues for this decade. What we are doing with our transistor structure is helping to make devices that are extremely power efficient, concentrating electrical current where it is needed."

The new structure is being called the Intel Terahertz transistor because the transistors will be able to switch more than a trillion times per second. To put this in perspective, Intel explained it would take a person more than 15,000 years to turn a light switch on and off a trillion times.

Intel expects to begin incorporating elements of the Terahertz structure into its product line by 2005.

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