TSMC breakthrough shrinks transistors 10-fold

Contract-chip maker Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. Ltd. (TSMC) Wednesday announced it has produced a working device that incorporates a new transistor type which will allow the company to produce transistors that are 10 times smaller than the smallest transistors that can be produced today.

Using the new transistor type, called FinFET, TSMC has produced transistors as small as 35 nanometres and believes the technology can be used to make transistors as small as 9 nanometres. Currently, the most advanced commercial chip-making process available is 130 nanometres (0.13 microns) and chip makers are working on the development of 90-nanometer processes.

FinFET transistors can be made much smaller because of a change to the design of transistors, TSMC said.

Traditional transistors involve two components, one providing source and drain routes for the electrical current, and the other gating the current, which creates digital ones and zeroes in an effect similar to pressing a finger on a vein, TSMC said. As transistor sizes get smaller and smaller, gating becomes more difficult, leading to high current leakage and very hot chips, it said.

Experts have therefore been predicting that CMOS (Complementary Metal Oxide Semiconductor) is nearing its limits as a viable chip manufacturing technology.

A FinFET transistor overcomes the problems by adding a second gate to the transistor, which reduces current leakage, allowing both the size of the transistor to be reduced and the current to be increased, TSMC said.

The new development will extend the life of existing CMOS manufacturing technology by approximately 20 years, the company claimed.

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