Intel transistor raises speed limit

Thursday, 29 November, 2001

Intel has unveiled a design for transistors which it says will operate at speeds hundreds of times faster than today's production devices.

The terahertz transistor design (a terahertz is a thousand gigahertz) is an evolution of current designs, using materials such as zirconium dioxide. Smaller transistors go faster but also leak more current when turned off and need a higher voltage to work; zirconium dioxide is a superior insulator that reduces this leakage and thus reduces power consumption while maintaining speed and low voltages.

Intel says that the new design will work down to around 0.6V before long. Other problems tackled include high capacitance, which increases the power needed to turn the transistor on and slows it down, and radiation from the atmosphere and packaging, which injects electrons directly into the transistor and causes a "soft error" in memory or logic designs. These have been minimised by putting the transistor on a sheet of insulator, which shields the effects of the radiation.

It also reduces the amount of conductor present near the transistor thus reducing the capacitance. Intel's new design reduces the number of electrons left floating around after the transistor operates, making the design more consistent.

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