Faster than a speeding bullet

Intel may well just have silenced predictions that Moore’s law will hit a brick wall with the creation of the world’s smallest and fastest CMOS transistor.

The breakthrough means that within 5 to 10 years we may well be using microprocessors containing more than 400 million transistors, running at 10 gigahertz (10 billion cycles per second) and operating at less than one volt. The new transistors act like switches controlling the flow of electrons inside a microchip. Intel claims that they could complete 400 million calculations in the blink an eye or finish two million calculations in the time it takes a speeding bullet to travel one inch.

‘This breakthrough will allow Intel to continue increasing the performance and reducing the cost of microprocessors well into the future,’ said Dr. Sunlin Chou, vice president and general manager of Intel’s Technology and Manufacturing Group.

Researchers were able to build the transistors by aggressively reducing all of their dimensions. The gate oxides used to build these transistors are just three atomic layers thick. More than 100,000 of these gates 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 as in today’s computer chips.

‘Many experts thought it would be impossible to build CMOS transistors this small because of electrical leakage problems,’ notes Dr. Gerald Marcyk, director of Intel’s Components Research Lab, Technology and Manufacturing Group. ‘Our research proves that these smaller transistors behave in the same way as today’s devices and shows there are no fundamental barriers to producing these devices in high volume in the future. The most important thing about these 30 nanometer transistors is that they are simultaneously small and fast, and work at low voltage. Typically you can achieve two of the three, but delivering on all facets is a significant accomplishment.’

Scientists believe that the creation of such powerful microprocessors will make applications like instantaneous, real-time voice translation an everyday reality.

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