AMD joins transistor trend

Like Intel and IBM, Advanced Micro Devices says it's working on multiple-gate transistors, in a bid to boost chip performance.

John G. Spooner Staff Writer, CNET News.com
John Spooner
covers the PC market, chips and automotive technology.
John G. Spooner
2 min read
Advanced Micro Devices has created new high-performance transistors in its labs based on the simple concept that sometimes two are better than one.

The chipmaker said Tuesday it has manufactured in its labs a new kind of transistor with two pathways, or gates, for electricity--instead of one. The new transistor design can double the amount of electricity that flows through a transistor, similar to the way that adding extra lanes can increase the capacity of a highway.

AMD is the latest major chipmaker to announce work on so-called double-gate transistors that are based on a design called the Fin Field Effect Transistor (Fin-Fet).

Researchers from IBM, Intel and now AMD have all said that transistors with multiple gates could be the key to boosting processor performance in the future. The technique can also be used to create energy-efficient transistors meant for chips in power-sensitive devices.

Transistors, which are microscopic on-off switches inside semiconductors, are the basic building blocks of a processor. They serve to channel electronic signals that are eventually orchestrated into higher-level commands.

AMD's new transistor design is also smaller than current transistors, which will allow the company to place as many as 1 billion transistors onto a chip area that currently holds 100 million transistors, which also would boost performance, the company said.

"Transistor development is essential to the creation of higher-performing products for our customers," Craig Sander, AMD's vice president of technology development, said in a statement.

Fin-Fet also adds a thin, vertical silicon fin to help control the leakage of current through the transistor when it is in the "off" stage. The transistor design can also use otherwise standard chipmaking techniques, however, allowing chipmakers to manufacture it fairly easily, AMD said.

Chips built with the new transistors could appear in systems in between about four and 10 years, depending on the schedule of the company using them.

IBM has already produced a static RAM chip using double-gate Fin-Fet transistors. So far, IBM researchers have said the company could have production chips with these transistors as soon as 2006. The company will unveil more details in December.

Meanwhile, Intel will discuss its plans for multiple-gate transistors this week at its Intel Developer Forum.

AMD did not say specifically how it plans to use the new transistors, created in collaboration with the University of California at Berkeley and the company Semiconductor Research. AMD and the University of California will present a paper on the new transistor at the International Electron Devices Meeting in San Francisco in December.