Intel lays the foundation for 20-GHz chips

Intel lays the foundation for 20-GHz chips

Intel Corp. is developing tinier and faster transistors that will keep increasing microprocessor performance, projecting chip speeds of 20 GHz or faster in six years.

The company has dubbed its new transistor architecture the TeraHertz because of its speed, said Gerald Marcyk, director of components research for Intel Labs in Hillsboro, Ore. Marcyk and his colleagues are presenting their findings to the 2001 IEEE International Electron Devices Meeting this week in Washington.

To make microprocessors run at a clock speed of 20 to 25 GHz by 2007, individual transistors will need to switch on and off roughly 1 trillion times per second. Intel will start incorporating the new transistor designs into microprocessors around the year 2005, Marcyk said. The goal is to build chips that have 25 times as many transistors as today's processors and 10 times the speed without any increase in power consumption.

The transistor advances should help the processor industry extend Moore's law through the end of this decade, Marcyk said. In 1965, Gordon Moore, now Intel chairman emeritus, predicted that the number of transistors per microprocessor would double every 18 to 24 months for the foreseeable future, and the prediction has held roughly true over the years.

The key to miniaturizing transistors is reducing the leakage of electrical current from the transistors, Marcyk said. The technology exists to make a layer of insulating silicon dioxide just three atoms thick, but electrons can tunnel through that thickness, raising a processor's power consumption and draining power from a notebook PC's battery.

Intel developed a new type of insulator that can be layered more thickly than silicon dioxide but with the same capacitance, reducing current leakage by a factor of 10,000, Marcyk said.

In another type of problem, called sub-threshold leakage, the proximity of the so-called source and drain electrodes within a single transistor can make current flow even when the device is switched off. The Intel researchers made a 'subtle but important change in transistor structure' that reduces this type of current leakage by a factor of 100, Marcyk said.

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