Intel recently announced that the first of its 45nm processor products codenamed "Penryn" are on track for debuting in the second half of 2007. Intel also unveiled the fact it will be using two new types of materials in these processors for the insulating walls and switching gates — Silicon Dioxide will no longer be used in the transistor gate as it has for the past 40-years.
The problem with using Silicon Dioxide used in the transistor gate dielectric is that as it is made thinner and thinner to fit on the smaller process technology, the amount of current leakage increases — resulting in wasted electric current and unnecessary heat (something we all know about if you’ve used a notebook that pumps out heat). Intel says it will be using "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 insulator dielectric material with a "high-k" property is an alloy of hafnium — a metallic element that has previously been used in filaments and electrodes and as a neutron absorber in nuclear power plants . Intel is not disclosing what material they are using for the gate, that part is "secret".
Intel physicist Mark Bohr who lead the research on 45-nanometer wafer technology at Intel
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.
So, what does all this mean?
Intel is basically claiming that this new technology will allow it to introduce processors for notebooks that provide 20% better performance and reduces current leakage by more than five times — thereby keeping a PC cooler even while it gets more powerful. This technology will be inside the next generation Intel Core 2 Duo, Intel Core 2 Quad and Xeon families of multi-core processors that offer higher core speeds and up to 12 MB of cache.
Intel is also touting that it will easily keep up with Moore’s law – the technology axiom that states that the number of transistors on a chip doubles roughly every two years, giving rise to a constant escalation of computing power at lower costs.
Intel is also thumbing its nose at AMD and IBM, the two other big chip makers who appear to be well behind Intel in moving to a 45nm process. IBM claims however that it will be on track to introduce similar innovative materials and technologies for the beginning of 2008 — still behind Intel who will roll out products based on the 45nm technology in the second half of 2007.
For more detailed information on these new technologies see their press release here.