Intel Corporation (Santa Clara, California, U.S.) is using two new materials to build the insulating walls and switching gates of its 45 nanometer (nm) transistors, in what the company calls one of the most substantial advancements in fundamental transistor design.
Intel said hundreds of millions of these microscopic transistors, or switches, will be inside the next generation Intel® Core™ 2 Duo, Intel Core 2 Quad and Xeon® families of multi-core processors. The company also said it has five early version products up and running – the first of fifteen 45-nm processor products it plans. The company said the transistor feat will allow it to deliver record-breaking PC, laptop and server processor speeds while reducing electrical leakage from transistors that can hamper chip and PC design, size, power consumption, noise, and costs. Intel said it also ensures the continued applicability of Moore’s Law, which states that transistor counts double about every 2 years.
Intel said it believes it has extended its lead of more than a year over the rest of the semiconductor industry with the first working 45 nm processors of its next-generation 45 nm family of products – codenamed “Penryn.” Early versions, which will be targeted at five different computer market segments, are running Windows Vista, Mac OS X, Windows XP, and Linux operating systems, as well as various applications. The company said it is on-track for 45 nm production in the second half of 2007.
Intel is the first to implement the combination of new materials that reduces transistor leakage and increases performance in its 45 nm process technology. It will use a new material with a property called high-k, for the transistor gate dielectric, and a new combination of metal materials for the transistor gate electrode.
“The implementation of high-k and metal materials marks the biggest change in transistor technology since the introduction of polysilicon gate MOS transistors in the late 1960s,” said Intel cofounder Gordon Moore.
Transistors are tiny switches that process the ones and zeroes of the digital world. The gate turns the transistor on and off and the gate dielectric is an insulator underneath it that separates it from the channel where current flows. The combination of the metal gates and the high-k gate dielectric leads to transistors with very low current leakage and record high performance.
Silicon dioxide has been used to make the transistor gate dielectric for more than 40 years because of its manufacturability and ability to deliver continued transistor performance improvements as it has been made ever thinner. Intel said it successfully shrunk the silicon dioxide gate dielectric to as little as 1.2 nm thick, equal to five atomic layers, on previous 65 nm process technology, but the continued shrinking has led to increased current leakage through the gate dielectric, resulting in wasted electric current and unnecessary heat.
Intel replaced the silicon dioxide with a thicker hafnium-based high-k material in the gate dielectric, reducing leakage by more than 10 times compared to the silicon dioxide.
Because the high-k gate dielectric is not compatible with today’s silicon gate electrode, the second part of Intel’s 45nm transistor material recipe is the development of new metal gate materials. While the specific metals that Intel uses remains secret, the company will use a combination of different metal materials for the transistor gate electrodes.
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