Intel discovery will lead to much faster and more efficient processors

// September 17th, 2012 // Technology

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Intel logoIntel thinks they have smashed through a frustrating barrier with a discovery that will lead to much faster and more efficient processors.  Solving the 10nm (nanometer) manufacturing problem will pave the way for chips that consume less power and have greater performance than current day chips.  But cracking the 10nm process has proved difficult.  BitTech explains:

As the component sizes decrease and the gaps between components get smaller, numerous issues raise their heads. The biggest of these, current leakage, calls for a radical rethink to how semiconductors are designed in order to smash what has been termed the ’10nm physical gate length barrier.’

The significance of the breakthrough

Ziff Davis explains the significance and implications of Intel’s breakthrough:

The process a chip is made to dictates the density with which transistors can be packed together and the efficiency with which they use power, so new manufacturing methods at finer detail levels allow for better chips.

In other words, size does matter.  The smaller the final chip, the better the performance.  Another advantage of a smaller chip is cost – smaller chips mean you can get more chips from a particular silicon wafer.

Current processor manufacturing processes

Current Ivy Bridge and Haswell processor lines are built with a 22nm tri-gate process.  In early 2014, Intel will move to a 14nm process (Broadwell processors) which itself will provide much faster and more efficient processors.  But the 10nm process has been impossible to architect until now.

How they will do it

Intel has invested heavily in extreme ultraviolet (EUV) lithography but the new 10nm process may not require EUV.  Instead, multiple patterning (likely double patterning on some layers and quadruple patterning on other layers) may be used with normal immersion processing techniques.

Mark Borh, director of process architecture and integration for Intel, told Ziff Davis (in a purposefully vague explanation):

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Right now I’m spending my time personally on 10nm pathfinding and it looks like we have a solution there.  The 10nm solution may rely on a number of experimental technologies potentially based around photonics, graphene, materials synthesis, dense memory, nanowires, extreme ultra violet lithography (EUV) and updated tri-gate transistors

10nm technology is expected to go into production qualification in 2015.  In the meantime, Intel continues to look for breakthroughs in 7nm and 5nm processing techniques.

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