What Intel’s revolutionary transistor means to your next PC
You’ve probably read the news that Intel has made a huge breakthrough in transistor design by moving from flat, planar transistors to transistors designed in three dimensions. These 3D Tri-Gate transistors will allow Intel to fab 22nm-based chips that use significantly less power, while offering significantly more performance.
Intel said its 22nm Tri-Gate transistors will improve transistor performance by 37 percent at the same voltage of a 32nm process CPU. The 22nm Tri-Gate chips will also consume half the power of a similar chip made on the existing 32nm process.
Although the performance and power differences come from all improvements added up, much of the improvement comes from the 3D Tri-Gate. With the flat, planar transistors, leakage can become an issue on the smaller processes as well as how hard you can push the current through the chip.
Instead of the power being driven through a flat plane, the Tri-Gate moves power along three sides of a fin that protrudes from the substrate. This fin increases the surface area as well as the drive strength or how hard you can push current. Intel believes its 3D transistors will put it about three years ahead of the competition.
So what does this all mean for your next PC? That depends on how long you’re willing to wait for it. Ivy Bridge won’t be rolled until the first half of 2012. When those PC’s arrive though, they will be faster, use less power and be cooler than today’s computers.
The PC of 2012 will looks somewhat similar to today’s PC. It’ll run on an LGA1155 socket which means today’s performance LGA1155 sockets will work. You won’t be able to use Ivy Bridge in your P67 board though. As is Intel’s MO, you’ll have to run the new Panther Point chipset. Panther Point’s main claim to fame will be integration of USB 3.0. It may or may not support PCI-E 3.0. That functionality is baked into the CPU but Intel hasn’t said when PCI-E 3.0 will be included. Since it’s based on LGA1155, the machine will also support dual-channel DDR3. The PCH will likely remain unchanged in Ivy Bridge, so we’ll also get the weak two port SATA6Gb/s / four port SATA3Gb/s setup again.
What’s not clear to us what happens to the high-end and mid-range. An Intel official told us on Wednesday that the enthusiast platform and mid-range platform may reunify once Ivy Bridge is released but that means the rumored LGA2011 platform will have a pretty short life span.
LGA2011 will bring quad-channel memory support, a butt load of PCI-E lanes integrated into the CPU and an eight-core chip too eventually. LGA2011’s are, of course, just rebranded Xeons, but Intel and enthusiasts have shown that they have an appetite for overkill products. I have a hard time believing that Intel will introduce LGA2011 and snuff it out nine months later.
The thornier question is what does it mean for your tablet or smart phone. That is the 100,000 micron question. Intel said the new 22nm process will first go in to desktops, laptops and servers. It would also go in to a future version of Atom, but the company didn’t detail any of those plans beyond saying that it’s on the roadmap. The company did say that it felt pretty confident that CPUs built on the 22nm process with 3D Tri-Gates would be competitive with ARM chips. By all accounts, the 22nm shrink of Atom won’t be around until late 2012 at the earliest or 2013. As exciting as 3D transistors are, that’s a long ways away.