Intel chips to become faster
- View SourceThis 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
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
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
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
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
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,
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
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
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
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
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
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
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