SAN JOSE – The world’s largest manufacturer of computer chips can’t stop making them faster.
Intel Corp. says its lab researchers have built the world’s smallest and fastest transistor — a milestone that will allow the Santa Clara-based company to build within the next five or 10 years microprocessors that will be 10 times more powerful than the ones available today.
Intel officials plan to share details of the breakthrough Monday in San Francisco at the International Electron Devices Meeting, a technical conference for semiconductor engineers and scientists.
“It’s discoveries like these that make me excited about the future,” said Sunlin Chou, vice president and general manager of Intel’s technology and manufacturing group. “It’s one thing to achieve a great technological breakthrough. It’s another to have one that is practical and will change everyone’s lives.”
Chips, which are the brains of computers and other smart devices, contain transistors that act like switches controlling the flow of electrons. The smaller the transistors, the faster the chips can perform.
Intel scientists think the breakthrough will make devices of science fiction stories a reality within a decade. Intel cited an instantaneous voice translation device as an example.
Today’s fastest chip on the market, Intel’s Pentium 4, squeezes 42 million transistors onto a sliver of silicon, runs at a speed of 1.5 gigahertz, or 1.5 billion cycles per second, and consumes 1.7 volts of power.
With the latest tiny transistors, future chips could have 400 million or more transistors and run at 10-gigahertz speeds, operating at less than a volt. The new transistors, Intel said, are .03 microns wide, or about three atoms thick. A pile of 100,000 of them would equal the thickness of a sheet of paper, the company said.
“Semiconductors have been on this growth curve for a long time, and Intel has validated that we’ll be able to continue on this path,” said Jim Handy, a chief analyst with Dataquest.
Other semiconductor manufacturers, such as IBM Corp. and Advanced Micro Devices, Inc., have all been locked in a race with Intel to create faster, smaller chips.
For the moment, Intel is holding the crown.