Intel terahertz transistor breaks speed limits

The design, running at a thousand gigahertz, will run hundreds of times faster than today's production devices and pave the way for more powerful computers

Molten silicon and atomic radiation are two of the hazards Intel is confronting in its race to make faster circuits, the company said on Friday at the International Electron Devices meeting in Washington DC. As part of this battle it unveiled a new design for transistors, one of which it says will operate at speeds hundreds of times faster than today's production devices. The terahertz transistor design -- a terahertz is a thousand gigahertz, or one trillion cycles a second -- is an evolution of current designs, using new materials such as zirconium dioxide. Smaller transistors go faster but also leak more current when turned off and need a higher voltage to work; zirconium dioxide is a superior insulator that reduces this leakage and thus reduces power consumption while maintaining speed and low voltages. Intel says that the new design will work down to around 0.6v before long. Other problems tackled include high capacitance, which increases the power needed to turn the transistor on and slows it down, and radiation from the atmosphere and packaging, which injects electrons directly into the transistor and causes a "soft error" in memory or logic designs. These have been minimised by putting the transistor on a sheet of insulator, which shields the effects of the radiation. It also reduces the amount of conductor present near the transistor thus reducing the capacitance. Intel's new design reduces the number of electrons left floating around after the transistor operates, making the design more consistent. Pushing the frontiers of Moore's Law
Without these innovations, it would be extremely difficult to build a processor with a billion transistors, which is predicted by Moore's Law to happen by 2007. That design will have 0.045u geometry, two-thirds smaller than that of today, and will operate at around a terahertz. If it weren't for the power reduction inherent in the new design, it could be expected to need around half a kilowatt per square centimetre, a power density higher than that in a nuclear reactor and one that would present a severe challenge to even the most ardent overclocker. See Chips Central for the latest headlines on processors and semiconductors. To find out more about the computers and hardware that these chips are being used in, see ZDNET UK's Hardware News Section. Have your say instantly, and see what others have said. Click on the TalkBack button and go to the Chips Central forum Let the Chips Central editor know what you think by email. And read other letters.

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