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Intel chips to become faster

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  • John Rethorst
    This is good news. I included a couple of my utilities, QuickFind and Free Backup, with the SheepShaver-WordPerfect install, and have never seen them run so
    Message 1 of 1 , Jan 29, 2007
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      This is good news. I included a couple of my utilities, QuickFind
      and Free Backup, with the SheepShaver-WordPerfect install, and
      have never seen them run so fast, even on last year's MacBook
      Pro with the Intel duel core chip. Word processing is typically not
      a speed-intensive endeavor, but it never hurts . . .


      New York Times, January 27, 2007

      Intel Says Chips Will Run Faster, Using Less Power

      By John Markoff

      Intel, the world's largest chip maker, has overhauled the
      basic building block of the information age, paving the way
      for a new generation of faster and more energy-efficient
      processors.

      Company researchers said the advance represented the most
      significant change in the materials used to manufacture
      silicon chips since Intel pioneered the modern
      integrated-circuit transistor more than four decades
      ago.

      The microprocessor chips, which Intel plans to begin making
      in the second half of this year, are designed for computers
      but they could also have applications in consumer devices.
      Their combination of processing power and energy efficiency
      could make it possible, for example, for cellphones to play
      video at length — a demanding digital task — with less
      battery drain.

      The work by Intel overcomes a potentially crippling
      technical obstacle that has arisen as a transistor's tiny
      switches are made ever smaller: their tendency to leak
      current as the insulating material gets thinner. The Intel
      advance uses new metallic alloys in the insulation itself
      and in adjacent components.

      Word of the announcement, which is planned for Monday,
      touched off a war of dueling statements as I.B.M. rushed to
      announce that it was on the verge of a similar
      advance.

      I.B.M. executives said their company was planning to
      introduce a comparable type of transistor in the first
      quarter of 2008.

      Many industry analysts say that Intel retains a six-month
      to nine month lead over the rest of the industry, but
      I.B.M. executives disputed the claim and said the two
      companies were focused on different markets in the
      computing industry.

      The I.B.M. technology has been developed in partnership
      with Advanced Micro Devices, Intel's main rival. Modern
      microprocessor and memory chips are created from an
      interconnected fabric of hundreds of millions and even
      billions of the tiny switches that process the ones and
      zeros that are the foundation of digital computing.

      They are made using a manufacturing process that has been
      constantly improving for more than four decades. Today
      transistors, for example, are made with systems that can
      create wires and other features that are finer than the
      resolving power of a single wavelength of light.

      The Intel announcement is new evidence that the chip maker
      is maintaining the pace of Moore's Law, the technology
      axiom that states that the number of transistors on a chip
      doubles roughly every two years, giving rise to a constant
      escalation of computing power at lower costs.

      "This is evolutionary as opposed to revolutionary, but it
      will generate a big sigh of relief," said Vivek
      Subramanian, associate professor of electrical engineering
      and computer sciences at the University of California,
      Berkeley.

      For several decades there have been repeated warnings about
      the impending end of the Moore's Law pace for chip makers.
      In response the semiconductor industry has repeatedly found
      its way around fundamental technical obstacles, inventing
      techniques that at times seem to defy basic laws ofphysics.

      The chip industry measures its progress by manufacturing
      standards defined by a width of one of the smallest
      features of a transistor for each generation. Currently
      much of the industry is building chips in what is known as
      90-nanometer technology. At that scale, about 1,000
      transistors would fit in the width of a human hair. Intel
      began making chips at 65 nanometers in 2005, about nine
      months before its closest competitors.

      Now the company is moving on to the next stage of
      refinement, defined by a minimum feature size of 45
      nanometers. Other researchers have recently reported
      progress on molecular computing technologies that could
      reduce the scale even further by the end of the
      decade.

      Intel's imminent advance to 45 nanometers will have a huge
      impact on the industry, Mr. Subramanian said. "People have
      been working on it for over a decade, and this is
      tremendously significant that Intel has made it work," he
      said.

      Intel's advance was in part in finding a new insulator
      composed of an alloy of hafnium, a metallic element that
      has previously been used in filaments and electrodes and as
      a neutron absorber in nuclear power plants. They will
      replace the use of silicon dioxide — essentially the
      material that window glass is made of, but only several
      atoms thick.

      Intel is also shifting to new metallic alloy materials — it
      is not identifying them specifically — in transistor
      components known as gates, which sit directly on top of the
      insulator. These are ordinarily made from a particular form
      of silicon called polysilicon.

      The new approach to insulation appears at least temporarily
      to conquer one of the most significant obstacles
      confronting the semiconductor industry: the tendency of
      tiny switches to leak electricity as they are reduced in
      size. The leakage makes chips run hotter and consume more
      power.

      Many executives in the industry say that Intel is still
      recovering from a strategic wrong turn it made when the
      company pushed its chips to extremely high clock speeds —
      the ability of a processor to calculate more quickly. That
      obsession with speed at any cost left the company behind
      its competitors in shifting to low-power
      alternatives.

      Now Intel is coming back. Although the chip maker led in
      the speed race for many years, the company has in recent
      years shifted its focus to low-power microprocessors that
      gain speed by breaking up each chip into multiple computing
      "cores." In its new 45-nanometer generation, Intel will
      gain the freedom to seek either higher performance or
      substantially lower power, while at the same time
      increasing the number of cores per chip.

      "They can adjust the transistor for high performance or low
      power," said David Lammers, director of WeSRCH.com, a Web
      portal for technical professionals.

      The Intel development effort has gone on in a vast
      automated factory in Hillsboro, Ore., that the company
      calls D1D. It features huge open manufacturing rooms that
      are kept surgically clean to prevent dust from
      contaminating the silicon wafers that are whisked around
      the factory by a robotic conveyor system.

      The technology effort was led by Mark T. Bohr, a longtime
      Intel physicist who is director of process architecture and
      integration. The breakthrough, he said, was in finding a
      way to deal with the leakage of current. "Up until five
      years ago, leakage was thought to increase with each
      generation," he said.

      Several analysts said that the technology advance could
      give Intel a meaningful advantage over competitors in the
      race to build ever more powerful microprocessors.

      "It's going to be a nightmare for Intel's competitors,"
      said G. Dan Hutcheson, chief executive of VLSI Research. "A
      lot of Mark Bohr's counterparts are going to wake up in
      terror."

      An I.B.M. executive said yesterday that the company had
      also chosen hafnium as its primary insulator, but that it
      would not release details of its new process until
      technical papers are presented at coming conferences.

      "It's the difference between can openers and Ferraris,"
      said Bernard S. Meyerson, vice president and chief
      technologist for the systems and technology group at I.B.M.
      He insisted that industry analysts who have asserted that
      Intel has a technology lead are not accurate and that
      I.B.M. had simply chosen to deploy its new process in chips
      that are part of high-performance systems aimed at the high
      end of the computer industry.

      Intel said it had already manufactured prototype
      microprocessor chips in the new 45-nanometer process that
      run on three major operating systems: Windows, Mac OS X and
      Linux.
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