At an event today in San Francisco, Intel announced one of the most important pieces of semiconductor news in many years: the company’s upcoming 22nm processors will feature a fundamental change to the design of the most basic building block of every computer chip, the transistor.
Intel has been exploring the new transistor for over a decade, and the company first announced a significant breakthrough with the design in 2002. A trickle of announcements followed over the years, as the new transistor progressed from being one possible direction among many to its newly crowned status as the official future of Intel’s entire product line.
In this short article, I'll give my best stab at explaining what Intel has announced—the so-called tri-gate transistor. Semiconductor physics are not my strong suit, so corrections/clarifications/comments are welcome. Also, this explanation focuses solely on the “3D” part of today's announcements. Other features of the 22nm process, like high-K dielectrics and such, are ignored. (So if you see a funny term on a slide and you don't know what it means, either ignore it or hit one of the Related Links for more info.)
But we dive into what’s new about Intel’s transistor design, we first have to review how traditional transistors work.