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IHS: Intel's tri-gates impede ARM's dominance

Posted: 12 May 2011 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:tri-gate? 22nm transistor? microprocessor?

Intel is also facing a threat from ARM-based devices in its traditional area of dominance, the PC microprocessor. Microsoft's announcement in January that the next version of the Windows operating system would run on both the X86 and ARM architectures has led to speculation that more power-efficient, lower cost ARM-based processors could eat into Intel's marketshare, particularly in the notebook segment.

But, according to IHS, tri-gate technology will make X86 a better matchup for ARM. In terms of power consumption, X86 will become more competitive with ARM in low-power devices such as notebooks, netbooks, tablets and smart phones.

IHS notes that the concept of a 3D structure is not new in chip manufacturingTaiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. Ltd (TSMC) and IBM have been developing such technology for several years. However, unlike the TSMC/IBM effort, Intel's tri-gate is ready for volume productionrepresenting a significant technological achievement, according to IHS.

"The capability to go into high-volume production should give Intel a two- to three-year manufacturing advantage over its competitors," says Len Jelinek, director and chief analyst for semiconductor manufacturing at IHS. Other advantages of Intel's Tri-Gate technology include its scalability, cost, product roadmap and elimination of the use of special wafers, says Jelinek.

IHS says that tri-gate can be shrunk to the sub-20nm level when the next-generation of lithography tools become available, allowing further gains in performance, power savings, and cost reduction. The manufacturing cost of tri-gate technology is only about 2 to 3 percent more per device compared to conventional planar technology, IHS adds.

Tri-gate also gives Intel a roadmap to extend its 22nm semiconductor manufacturing technology to the Atom platform, which could result in the introduction of a low-power microarchitecture that can be incorporated into cellphones. Transitioning to a tri-gate transistor also gives Intel the capability to manufacture a fully depleted transistor without having to use a silicon-on-insulator (SOI) structure, eliminating the need to use more expensive SOI wafers.

Wilkins says Advanced Micro Devices Inc. (AMD), Intel's main competitor in the PC and server X86 microprocessor markets, has been working on reducing the power consumption of its chips for a number of years now, much like Intel. AMD recently launched its accelerated processing units (APUs), which combine the microprocessor core and graphics processor on the same silicon. The aim of AMD's chips is also to extend the battery life at the system level, says Wilkins.

- Dylan McGrath
??EE Times

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