Intel to Use Tri-Gate Transistors with 22nm Process Technology

Intel Plans to Introduce Tri-Gate Transistor Design with 22 Fabrication Technology

by Anton Shilov
05/04/2011 | 11:04 PM

Intel Corp. said on Wednesday that its 22nm technology will employ triple-gate (Tri-Gate) transistors. The three-dimensional Tri-Gate transistors represent a fundamental departure from the two-dimensional planar transistor structure that has powered all chips for decades. Other makers of chips, including Intel's arch-rival AMD/Globalfoundries will also eventually start to use 3D transistors.


"Intel's scientists and engineers have once again reinvented the transistor, this time utilizing the third dimension. Amazing, world-shaping devices will be created from this capability as we advance Moore's Law into new realms," said Paul Otellini, chief executive officer of Intel.

The 3D Tri-Gate transistors are a reinvention of the transistor. The traditional "flat" two-dimensional planar gate is replaced with an thin three-dimensional silicon fin that rises up vertically from the silicon substrate. Control of current is accomplished by implementing a gate on each of the three sides of the fin – two on each side and one across the top -- rather than just one on top, as is the case with the 2D planar transistor. The additional control enables as much transistor current flowing as possible when the transistor is in the "on" state (for performance), and as close to zero as possible when it is in the "off" state (to minimize power), and enables the transistor to switch very quickly between the two states (for performance).

An illustration of a 32nm transistor compared to a 22nm transistor. On the left side is the 32nm planar transistor in which the current (represented by the yellow dots) flows in a plane underneath the gate. On the right is the 22nm 3-D Tri-Gate transistor with current flowing on 3 sides of a vertical fin.

Scientists have long recognized the benefits of a 3-D structure for sustaining the pace of Moore's Law as device dimensions become so small that physical laws become barriers to advancement. For the first time since the invention of silicon transistors over 50 years ago, transistors using a three-dimensional structure will be put into high-volume manufacturing. Intel will introduce a 3D transistor design called Tri-Gate, first disclosed by Intel in 2002, into high-volume manufacturing at the 22nm node.

Intel's 3-D Tri-Gate transistor structure provides a way to manage density. Since these fins are vertical in nature, transistors can be packed closer together, a critical component to the technological and economic benefits of Moore's Law. For future generations, designers also have the ability to continue growing the height of the fins to get even more performance and energy-efficiency gains.

"For years we have seen limits to how small transistors can get. This change in the basic structure is a truly revolutionary approach, and one that should allow Moore's Law, and the historic pace of innovation, to continue," said Gordon Moore, chairman emeritus and a co-founder of Intel.

Intel's 3D Tri-Gate transistors enable chips to operate at lower voltage with lower leakage, providing an unprecedented combination of improved performance and energy efficiency compared to previous state-of-the-art transistors. The capabilities give chip designers the flexibility to choose transistors targeted for low power or high performance, depending on the application. The 22nm 3D Tri-Gate transistors provide up to 37% performance increase at low voltage versus Intel's 32nm planar transistors. This gain means that they are ideal for use in small handheld devices, which operate using less energy to "switch" back and forth. Alternatively, the new transistors consume less than half the power when at the same performance as 2D planar transistors on 32nm chips.

Intel also demonstrated the world's first 22nm microprocessor, code-named Ivy Bridge, working in a laptop, server and desktop computer. Ivy Bridge-based Intel Core family processors will be the first high-volume chips to use 3D Tri-Gate transistors. Ivy Bridge is slated for high-volume production readiness by the end of this year.

This silicon technology breakthrough will also aid in the delivery of more highly integrated Intel Atom processor-based products that scale the performance, functionality and software compatibility of Intel architecture while meeting the overall power, cost and size requirements for a range of market segment needs.