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In-Stat: Intel takes industry lead with 3D transistors

Posted: 10 May 2011 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:22nm? 3D? planar? semiconductors?

Intel Corp. announces the introduction of its next-generation 22nm process technology with great fanfare. While achieving production at 22nm is an achievement, it was not unexpected. Intel has maintained a regular cadence of a new process every 24 months, on average. The surprise came in the accompanying technology3D tri-gate transistors. The new transistor design is a shift from the traditional planar (or 2D) transistor to a 3D transistor using a vertical channel that stands above the silicon substrate and a gate that encapsulates the channel. Rather than looking like a simple configuration of blocks, it looks like an assembled puzzle block.

So, why is the transistor design so important? Because there are three key pillars of innovation in semiconductor manufacturing technology, materials, lithography, and transistor design, and all three are required to continue manufacturing smaller, higher-performance, more power efficient, and cost effective semiconductors to fuel the next generation of electronics innovation. In other terms, to keep Moore's Lawthe economic driver of the semiconductor industryalive. In recent years, Intel, as well as the rest of the semiconductor industry, has implemented improvements in the first two pillars. In materials technology, the industry has implemented the use of strained silicon, metal gates, and high-k dielectrics. In lithography, the industry has moved to multiple patterning and immersion. There have also been different experimentations in creating the transistor structures, gate-first and gate-last, but 3D transistors is the most significant change in transistor design since the introduction of semiconductor devices in the early 1970s.

Planar and 3D

"The development, however, did not come out of thin air," says Jim McGregor, chief technology strategist. "Intel and others in the industry have been working on 3D transistors for over a decade. Intel's first paper on 3D transistors was presented in 2002. However, the industry often works on new technologies for extended periods of time, only being brought to market if and when they are proven to improve certain aspects of semiconductor technology and can be implemented in high volume manufacturing for and acceptable cost."

Intel indicated that the 3D transistor will add some additional process steps to manufacturing and approximately a 2C3 percent increase in manufacturing cost, but it will not require any special tooling. This is good news for Intel and the rest of the industry, which is likely to adopt the technology in the future. Intel cites at least a three-year lead on other semiconductor manufacturers. This figure translates to a process node generation (2 years) plus Intel's typical lead at each process node (1 year). With no other 3D transistor announcements by other semiconductor manufacturers, this is likely the case.

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