On Wednesday (May 4), Intel announced another milestone in semiconductor technology as they demonstrated a production-ready 3-D transistor technology for 22 nm called Tri-Gate.
With chips for servers, desktops and laptops running Windows, Intel drove home the point both that their 22-nm Tri-Gate devices are viable and that they can be tailored to suit the power versus performance tradeoffs for a range of applications. The 22-nm devices are shrinks of the Sandy Bridge microarchitecture known as Ivy Bridge in the "tick" side of the product introduction cycle that Intel has delivered six times going back to 65 nm.
The Tri-Gate announcement ended the speculation about the direction Intel would take for 22 nm. Mark Bohr's analyst briefings prior to the announcement explained why Tri-Gate is the right choice for 22-nm. Microprocessors are sampling now with delivery to OEMs slated for the end of this year. At least one Wall Street analyst may have this confused as this quote appeared yesterday:
"This architecture will separate the men from the boys. No one else has a tri-gate transistor in volume production."
Volume production at the D1D fab on Oregon will ramp up next year.
The Tri-Gate transistor is known outside Intel as a FinFet because the silicon channel is akin to a fin jutting up from the semiconductor substrate. MugFET is another term for this type of transistor, a shortened form of "multi-gate." A little less specific than Intel's name, but I was really pulling for MugFET to get wider adoption. I guess I have no future in marketing.
Intel will not yet disclose additional details on either the structure or specific performance numbers and did not give a timeframe for any such announcement, but the materials supplied to the media provided several relative performance figures.The first 3-D transistors (if you exclude recessed channel DRAM array transistors) appearing at 22-nm will have a big impact on the industry. As Mark Bohr pointed out, 22-nm Tri-Gate transistor performance exceeds
the capabilities of present and future SOI technology.
Comparing other technology options for 22-nm, the best technology platform needs to provide depleted channel devices. Compared to their 32-nm bulk technology, Intel's fully depleted Tri-Gate transistor provides 18 percent faster devices at operating voltages suitable for desktop and server chips.But in a clear sign of Intel's desire to break into the ultraportable space occupied by tablets and smartphones, they highlighted the 37 percent speed improvement at lower operating voltages suited to devices aggressively marketed not only on time between battery charges but also capability to perform intense computing functions.
Targeting tablet market
Today's partially-depleted SOI is not enough for the 22-nm node meaning the next generation of fully-depleted (FD-SOI) devices is necessary. Although FD-SOI could provide the performance benefits required at 22-nm, Intel claims it will add 10 percent to the manufacturing cost while the Tri-Gate process adds only two to three
percent. The Tri-Gate process builds upon earlier high-k metal gate technology that will continue with Intel's 22-nm platform.
For a while now, Intel has touted the capability to tailor transistors for highest performance or lowest power and all points in between. 45- and 32-nm technology platforms from Intel have allowed the chip architects and product people to offer compromises for computing capability and power consumption specific to the application.
With the 22-nm Tri-gate process, Intel feels it is ready to not only move into but become a leader in the tablet and smartphone space. Intel created the netbook segment with Atom. The market for netbooks continues to create sockets for Intel to fill. There has never been much competition for them in this space. Atom was widely adopted with low cost as its main design spec. That satisfied the demand for netbooks, but Atom had not yet established a beach head in smart phones due to the multi-chip solution and power consumption.
The product side of the analyst briefings were provided by Stephen Smith, who heads up a new product group devoted to netbooks and tablets. Although Intel is known as a server-desktop-laptop player, Smith pointed out that the most recent offerings in the Atom line at 32-nm have begun to push them further into the tablet and smartphone market. However, the flexibility for lower power consumption or much higher performance in a reduced power envelope with 22-nm Tri-Gate has the potential to make Intel a serious player as they take a big step beyond netbooks.