Intel is presenting its “3D” Tri-Gate transistor is going to enter production for the first time. The 22nm processor codenamed “Ivy Bridge”. It sounds like a marketing name, but Intel takes 3D transistors very seriously. The design has been demonstrated in 2002, so the concept is not breaking news, but it is finally entering production with a 22nm processor.


Tri-Gate is the latest milestone in a long history of transistor innovation

They key elements here are “transistor density” and “power efficiency”, with an emphasis on the latter. Intel says that Tri-Gate allows the company to build processors that have more transistors, while using less power.  Tri-Gate lets Intel control the flow of electricity in a much more efficient manner, the company says – the idea is to turn inefficiencies into processing power that users can tap into. Tri-Gate is a fundamental improvement that should allow Intel to push the limits of Moore’s law (again), which dictates that the transistor density of processors doubles every couple of years.


This image shows the density differences between the current 32nm transistors and the new 22nm Tri-Gate ones

Tri-Gate is important to cost-reduce transistors, but this technology might also be crucial to lowering the power consumption for mobile devices. This could prove to be a key element for Intel’s long-term goal to get into the handset market: Atom based processors will also benefit from Tri-Gate.


Tri-Gate will eventually benefit all Intel processors

Intel also says that a lower voltage will be tremendously helpful for graphics processing. Why? Because graphics processors (GPUs) are extremely dense. And because Intel has started to integrate GPUs in its processors with Sandy Bridge, it’s critically important for them to have a transistor foundation that lets them pursue integration. That said, don’t expect the current paradigm to change: Intel considers its graphics processors like an “enabler” for its CPUs more than a product class in itself.

Intel believes that the current implementation of Tri-Gate can work (as is) until 14nm. Beyond that “further innovations will be needed”.

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