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World’s Fastest Silicon Transistors

Intel Researchers Build World’s Fastest Silicon Transistors
Transistors At 20 Nanometers In Size To Enable
Billion-Transistor Microprocessors Later This Decade

Intel Corporation researchers have demonstrated that there are no fundamental barriers to extending Moore’s Law for another decade by building the world’s fastest silicon transistors. These transistors -- featuring structures just 20 nanometers (nm) in size -- will allow Intel to build microprocessors containing a billion transistors, running at speeds approaching 20 gigahertz and operating at less than one volt in approximately 2007.

Intel Labs researchers disclosed this advance yesterday in Kyoto, Japan at the 2001 Silicon Nanoelectronics Workshop, a conference for semiconductor engineers and scientists.

“This research demonstrates that Intel is already well into the nanotechnology realm using silicon,” said Dr. Gerald Marcyk, director of the Components Research Lab in Intel’s Technology and Manufacturing Group. “Our transistor research shows that we are able to extend Moore’s Law scaling for at least another three generations beyond our current technologies.”

Many researchers have speculated that nanotechnology would replace silicon in the future, but Intel’s research illustrates that silicon and nanotechnology are in fact complementary.

“We still have not found a fundamental limit for making silicon transistors smaller,” added Dr. Robert Chau, Intel Fellow and director of transistor research, Intel Logic Technology Development. “The pace of silicon development is accelerating, not decelerating.”

The 20 nm transistors, developed by researchers from Intel Labs, are 30 percent smaller and 25 percent faster than the industry’s current fastest transistors, also developed by Intel researchers within the last year. (Note: A nanometer is one-billionth of a meter). Smaller transistors are faster, and fast transistors are the key building block for fast microprocessors, the brains of computers and countless other smart devices. These transistors will be the basis of Intel’s 45 nanometer (0.045-micron) process generation, which the company plans to have in production in approximately 2007.

These new transistors, which act like switches controlling the flow of electrons inside a microchip, turn on and off more than a trillion times per second. Microprocessors created with these transistors could complete close to a billion calculations in the blink of an eye or finish four million calculations in the time it takes a speeding bullet to travel one inch.

Intel researchers were able to build these ultra-small transistors by continuing to aggressively reduce their dimensions. The gate oxides used to build these transistors are just three atomic layers thick. More than 100,000 of these gate oxide layers would need to be stacked to achieve the thickness of a sheet of paper.

Also significant is that these experimental transistors, while featuring capabilities that are generations beyond the most advanced technologies used in manufacturing today, were built using the same physical structure and materials used in today’s computer chips. Intel plans to use a different class of gate oxide material by the time these transistors go into production.

Intel Labs, the research and development arm of Intel, is comprised of more than 6,000 researchers and scientists in labs around the world. The labs are structured in a “decentralized” manner, with significant internal research capabilities complemented by numerous external research programs with universities, government labs and industry consortia. This structure is different from traditional, centralized research labs, and allows Intel to tackle a broader range of research projects. The labs are also closely aligned with Intel’s business units, which help Intel Labs develop technologies that address the needs of Intel’s customers and consumers alike.

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