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In depth: Intel's Next Generation 22nm Tri-Gate CPUs


intel tri gate
intel tri gate

Intel has been talking about its upcoming 22nm chip manufacturing technology for a while now but while out at IDF we were given an in-depth briefing on just what Intel has been working on and what it means for chip designs of the future.

For those unfamiliar, 22nm refers to the width of the transistors used in the design of microprocessors. As the size of these transistors is reduced through technological advancements, the size of the overall chip is reduced and its power consumption generally drops too thanks to less voltage being needed to power the smaller transistors.

intel tri gate

The pace of innovation and drive to keep on reducing chip size has been so steady that it prompted Gordon Moore to propose that the number of transistors that will fit in any given space of silicon will double every two years. 56 years on this has stayed largely true with just the last eight years seeing the industry move from 90nm through 65nm and 45nm, and onto today's standard of 32nm.

The next step is to 22nm but unlike the Taiwanese Semi-Conductor Manufacturer (TSMC) and Global Foundries, Intel has decided not to simply shrink the current standard chip design - called the planar transistor - but use a new type of transistor.

intel tri gate

Traditional, planar, transistors form a conducting channel (the bit across which current flows to say the transistor is on) from a single flat surface below the gate (the bit that switches current flow on and off). But with tri-gate the new design has the silicon upon which the conducting surface is formed project up into the gate, providing contact on three sides.

intel tri gate

The result is a conducting surface that is as effective as a much wider one on a planar design. This allows the designs to be smaller without increasing current leakage (the number one enemy for power consumption).


September 15, 2011, 8:06 am

Thanks for the interesting article Ed (if somewhat hidden away on the front-page). If tri-gate was first tested back in 2012, it makes you wonder what Intel are testing now, and makes you appreciate the time-scales involved in micro-chip design.

I assume these new transistors will be coming with Ivy Bridge? Will be interesting to see how they affect the performance of the new CPUs in real-world testing.


September 20, 2011, 4:23 pm

Thanks for the kind words.

Yes, this is the technology that will be used in Ivy Bridge.

Real world performance should very much reflect the theoretical as it's a universal improvement. It's somewhat equivalent to upping the horsepower on a car rather than, say, uprating the suspension and brakes - the former you'll always notice whereas the latter require you to drive harder to reap any reward.


September 25, 2011, 4:19 pm

Thanks for the analogy - it makes more sense now - and a 37% increase in real-world performance sounds good to me. (And, oops, should have been 2002, not 2012, in my original comment).

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