The trend in electronics for the past 40 years has been shrinking real estate: the shrinking of transistors in order to squeeze more onto a microchip.  Chip designers, however, are now running into a bit of a crunch: they’re out of space.  Intel made the decision this year to do what any fully packed city would do and build up.

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In conventional transistors, flat conductive channels move electricity toward gates that turn the current on or off: ones and zeros.  This allows computers to process information.  Intel’s newly developed ‘Tri-Gate’ transistor, which the company demoed in May, replaces the flat channels with rectangular silicon pillar, or ‘fins’, which rise above the chip’s surface.  Electricity flows through the transistor on all three sides of the fin, letting the gates wrap around the fin instead of touching only one face of the channel.

This gives the gates better control over the flow of electricity, boosting performance by 37 percent.  Intel says it’s ‘Tri-Gate’ transistors also consume less that half the power of conventional transistors and can be packed in much more closely on a chip.

Expect 3D transistors to start showing up in PCs in early 2012, followed by servers and cellphones.

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