Yesterday, I was telling you about some of the largest pixels in the world. Today, we'll talk about the smallest transistors.
Chip makers will start making chips with transistors just 90 nanometers wide in the second half of next year, crossing a symbolic barrier that engineers hope will eventually lead to transistors with atomic-level dimensions.
Combined with new materials, such as silicon germanium, the new process will enable chip makers to combine computer and communications functions on a single piece of silicon much more easily than in the past. That, in turn, will lead to smaller and smarter cell phones, digital cameras and other electronic devices.
And small transistors lead to big numbers -- the ones I love.
Sunlin Chou, senior vice president and general manager of Intel's technology and manufacturing group, says the circuits are now so small that a 90-nanometer chip will be able to theoretically hold 1 billion transistors, compared to almost 500 million in Intel's upcoming chip, code-named Madison, which is made with Intel's current 130-nanometer manufacturing process. The current Pentium 4 chip has 55 million transistors.
Intel will not be alone in this race. Both AMD and Intel also plan to launch 90-nanometer manufacturing in the second half of 2003. But they will use different technologies.
Intel will use a technology called strained silicon, which stretches the crystal structure of the silicon atoms in a way that allows electrical charges to pass through more quickly, sort of like making the holes larger in a flour sifter. Chou says that enables Intel's chips to run 20 percent faster.
Bill O'Leary, a spokesman for IBM, says IBM decided not to use strained silicon, but it is using silicon-on-insulator, or SOI, as a way to reduce the amount of power its chips will use. SOI's insulator effect reduces the current that leaks from a chip, reducing overall heat and allowing transistors to be packed more tightly. AMD has licensed IBM's SOI technology.
Source: Dean Takahashi, San Jose Mercury News, September 15, 2002
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