For the first time, a three-dimensional transistor will go into volume production, and it will be manufactured in a 22nm process. To illuminate its impact, more than 6 million of these Tri-Gate transistors, called Ivy Bridge, could fit in the period at the end of this sentence.
So what else is special about Intel’s 3D Ivy Bridge, beyond the fact that it sustains Intel co-founder Gordon Moore’s prediction of the number of transistors on a chip doubling about every two years?
Ivy Bridge delivers two key operational elements: substantial power savings and performance advantages. The Tri-Gate transistors enable chips to operate at lower voltage with lower leakage. Further, they boost performance up to 37% at low voltage when compared to the company’s 32nm planar transistors.
The 3D Tri-Gate transistors represent a fundamental departure from the 2D planar transistor structure. The traditional 2D planar gate is replaced with a thin 3D silicon fin that rises vertically from the silicon substrate.
Control of current is accomplished by implementing a gate on each of the fin’s three sides—two on each side and one across the top—rather than just one on top, as is the case with the 2D planar transistor. The additional control enables as much transistor current as possible to flow when the transistor is in the "on" state, and as close to zero as possible when it’s in the "off" state. It also enables the transistor to switch very quickly between the two states.
Intel likens the structure of Ivy Bridge devices to that of skyscrapers. Just as they let architects optimise available space by building upward, the 3D Tri-Gate transistor structure provides a way to manage density. Because the fins are vertical, transistors can be packed closer together, a critical component to the technological and economic benefits of Moore's Law. For future generations, designers also will be able to continue growing the height of the fins to further boost performance and energy efficiency.
Intel also believes that this silicon breakthrough will assist in the delivery of more highly integrated Intel Atom processor-based products. These products scale the performance, functionality, and software compatibility of Intel architecture while meeting overall power, cost, and size needs.
Ivy Bridge is scheduled for high-volume production by the end of 2011.