While there has been a lot of hype around Intel's new High-k metal gate transistor technology for its 45nm processors, few people understand the way in which it has revolutionised the microchip.
Intel has taken a new approach to the design of the transistor in an effort to reduce heat generation and power consumption while at the same time improving overall transistor performance.
Traditionally, silicon dioxide has been used to make the transistor gate dielectric, a design that has served the industry well for more than 40 years. Transistors as small as 1,2nm in thickness have been incorporated into computer processors to allow for huge increases in performance.
Unfortunately, as transistors have shrunk, the amount of current leakage through the gate dielectric has increased, resulting in power wastage and heat build-up.
In 2003, in an effort to address this problem, Intel took a completely new approach to the design of the metal gate dielectric, replacing silicon dioxide with a hafnium-based dielectric (high-k) material. The result is a reduction in current leakage but 10 times, a 30% reduction in switching power, and a 20% in switching speed.
This breakthrough, described by co-founder of Intel Corporation, Intel Gordon Moore of the ubiquitous Moore's Law, as the biggest advance for Intel since the company's establishment, has enabled Intel to advance to the next stage of its product development – 45nm processors with double the number of transistors, ie 400-million in a 45nm dual core processor and 800 million in a quad core system.
With its 45nm processors Intel has been able to double performance without increasing the power envelope. At the same time heat build-up in Intel's chips has been reduced, ensuring a more environmentally friendly operation.
The new technology has also enable Intel to add more functionality to its chips. For example we will soon see next generation microprocessors codenamed Nehalem with features that will further increase in overall performance of computers.
The new processors also meet the requirements for "Green PCs", complying with the requirements of ROHS (Removal of Harmful Substances) as well as lower power requirements, enabling users to make a positive contribution to the reduction in lead and halogen contaminants in the environment as well as greenhouse gases.
The advances made with 45nm technology will also be matched by new technologies designed to further improve PC performance. These include increasing L2 cache from 4Mb to as much as 12Mb the introduction of; Quick Path Interconnect (QPI); the ability to share L3 cache across processor cores; and a new series of multimedia instructions for high-definition video playback.