Labeling it “one of the biggest advancements in fundamental transistor design,” Intel on Jan. 27 said it is utilizing two “dramatically new” materials to build the insulating walls and switching gates for 45nm (nanometer) transistors. The company also said that five early-version 45nm processors are up and running.
According to Intel, the new 45nm technology will ensure that Moore's Law, Intel Co-Founder Gordon Moore's observation dating back to 1965 that transistor counts double about every two years, will “[thrive] well into the next decade.”
The breakthrough involves an innovative combination of new materials that drastically reduces transistor leakage and increases performance in its 45nm process technology, according to the company. A “high-k” material will be used for the transistor gate dielectric, and a new combination of metal materials for the transistor gate electrode.
Transistor gate leakage — associated with ever-thinner silicon dioxide gate dielectric required by continually shrinking geometries — is recognized by the industry as one of the most formidable technical challenges facing Moore's Law, according to Intel. To solve this critical issue, the company 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 silicon dioxide.
In order to overcome the problem that the high-k gate dielectric is not compatible with today's silicon gate electrode, the new 45nm transistor approach required Intel to develop new metal gate materials. While details of the specific metals being used remain secret, the company says it will employ a combination of different metal materials for the transistor gate electrodes.
Intel claims that the combination of the high-k gate dielectric with the metal gate produces more than 20 percent greater drive current, resulting in higher transistor performance. Conversely, it reduces source-drain leakage by more than five times, thus improving the energy efficiency of the transistor.
Intel says it currently has more than 15 products based on 45nm technology in development — under the code name “Penryn” — covering the mobile, desktop, workstation, and enterprise segments.
The Penryn family includes new microarchitecture features for greater performance and power management capabilities, as well as higher core speeds and up to 12 megabytes of cache, according to the company. Designs for these products will incorporate more than 400 million transistors for dual-core processors, and more than 800 million for quad-core chips.
In a statement associated with this announcement, Moore said, “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.”
Intel adds that it “remains on track” for 45nm production in the second half of this year.
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