Intel Ivy Bridge microprocessor adds 3D sauce to your chips

Ivy Bridge chips have tiny fins that Intel is calling 3D technology, as the company prepares to get more of its chips into mobile phones.

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Intel is adding an extra dimension to microprocessors with its new Ivy Bridge chip. It has tiny fins Intel is calling 3D technology, as the company tries to get more of its chips into mobile phones.

Pay attention: here comes the science. The transistor gate -- the bit the current passes through -- is just 22 nanometres long. A nanometre is one billionth of a metre, and a human hair measures 60,000nm across. Today's chips measure 32nm.

The Ivy Bridge gate also has a new Tri-Gate system. Instead of a flat surface (pictured below left), there are three fins sticking up from the silicon wafer -- the thin bits pictured below right. Intel reckons the increased surface area makes the chips more conductive and able to use less power.

That means Ivy Bridge chips can be used in mobile phones and tablets, which need to limit the power they use to ensure decent battery life. Currently, the market for mobile chips is dominated by ARM.

It's good news for Intel, recently embarrassed by a flaw in its new Sandy Bridge chips. Computers using the Sandy Bridge architecture had to be recalled and replaced after it was discovered they were likely to fail much sooner than anticipated.

Rival chip-maker AMD made a prototype 22nm chip in 2008, but has yet to bring it to market. Ivy Bridge chips will appear in computers and devices later this year, making it the first commercially available 22nm chip. Chips for mobile devices will follow next year.

The next stage in chip development is set to be 14nm chips, followed by 11nm. After that transistors are likely to be limited by physical size, unless someone invents a new way of putting them together.