Intel unveils technologies for faster, efficient chips

By Matthew Fordahl AP Technology Writer
Monday November 26, 2001

Company says new equipment will use less power 


SAN JOSE – In another step toward faster computers, Intel Corp. has developed two new technologies that will help the tiny transistors inside microprocessors run cooler, use less power and operate more efficiently. 

The new designs should complement several recent breakthroughs in building minuscule transistors that form the basis of all modern-day computing as they switch on and off billions of times a second. 

But as switches become tinier they use more power and release more heat. Unchecked, that would lead to short battery lives and computers too hot to be useable. 

“If we continue along that trend, we’re looking at ridiculous power levels – like a nuclear reactor or a rocket nozzle,” said Gerald Marcyk, director of Intel’s Components Research Lab. “We want to avoid that.” 

Intel researchers will present the two technologies Monday during the International Electron Device Meeting in Washington. 

It turns out that as transistors are made smaller, electrical current leaks from their microscopic components. That means more heat-generating power is needed for them to function. 

In one solution, transistors are built in a thin layer of silicon on top of an embedded layer of insulator. The “depleted substrate” transistor has 100 times lower leakage than current solutions, Marcyk said. 

The other solution involves the use of a new material – high k gate dieletric – that replaces silicon dioxide between the gate and active area of a transistor. The new material reduces leakage by more than 10,000 times. 

“What I’m looking for is 25 times more transistors, 10 times the speed and no power increase,” Marcyk said. 

Earlier this year, Intel unveiled transistors just 20 nanometers wide. (A nanometer is about 10,000 times narrower than a human hair.) Today’s Pentium 4 has 42 million transistors, each about 180 nanometers. 

The number of transistors in a microprocessor is expected to be in the billions within a few years. But few consumers would be interested if their computers raised electric bills or required a refrigeration system. 

The new technology is expected to be incorporated into Intel’s product lines as early as 2005, when microprocessors will be as adept at handling sounds and images as today’s chips are at crunching numbers.