Intel shrinks tri-gate transistors, silicon radios

Intel Corp. will provide an update on its tri-gate transistor design efforts to attendees at the VLSI Symposia in Kyoto, Japan, this week. Intel has been working on tri-gate transistors for almost a year, but is moving closer to mass production of the transistor design.

The Santa Clara, Calif., company announced its research efforts at its Fall Intel Developer Forum last September, and hopes to incorporate the transistors into products built on 45-nanometer (45nm) process technology equipment by 2007, said Manny Vara, an Intel spokesperson.

The tri-gate transistor is one of the design features Intel is incorporating into its processors as the semiconductor industry continues to shrink process technologies. As the size of individual structures in a transistor shrink, it becomes difficult for that transistor to determine whether it is actually on or off, Vara said.

In addition to that problem, current transistors only have one gate, which allows current to leak out of the transistor around that gate, Vara said. The more current leakage in a transistor, the more battery power wasted in a mobile device, he said.

Using a tri-gate transistor increases the amount of gate area available for current to flow through while containing leakage, he said. This allows performance to increase without a significant increase in leakage, similar to making a single-lane road into a three-lane highway, he said. Researchers at the company have now been able to produce transistors with 30nm-long gates, down from the 60nm gates it had previously produced.

IBM Corp.’s chip designers are working on double-gate transistors, the company said last year.

Intel also plans to discuss its work on developing silicon radios, a project dubbed “Radio Free Intel” by Senior Vice-President and Chief Technology Officer Pat Gelsinger. The company believes that by developing radios from silicon, it can reduce the expense required to manufacture radios, and build that technology into a wide variety of processors or chipsets, Vara said.

Using 0.18-micron CMOS (complementary metal-oxide semiconductor) technology used to manufacture Intel’s older processors, researchers have built two of the structures needed for radios to function. The company has built a 5GHz oscillator that can generate Wi-Fi signals for both 802.11a networks and 802.11b/802.11g networks, and a 10GHz synthesizer. The synthesizer allows a radio to efficiently move between different channels to obtain the strongest and clearest signal, Vara said.

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