New transistor material could help extend Moore's Law

Santa Clara (CA) - Reducing the power consumption of future chips is research priority in today's semiconductor industry. Experimenting with new materials that could substitute or complement today's silicon substrates is considered a critical step in this effort - and Intel claims it has discovered yet another material that has the potential to let chips run cooler and consume less energy.

The company today said that it has demonstrated in collaboration with researchers from QinetiQ a low power transistor prototype that uses indium antimonide (InSb) to conduct electrical current. The firms believe that InSb can to complement silicon one day, as it was possible to accelerate the transistors by 50 percent while reducing power consumption by a factor of 10 at the same time.

Ken David, director of components research for Intel's technology and manufacturing group, expects the technology to play a part in chasing Moore's Law, which claims that transistor counts within a specific area will double within 18 to 24 months. At an event held at Intel's Ronler Acres campus last week, David said that Intel believes Moore's Law to be in place "well beyond 2015."

According to the company, InSb is in a class of materials called III-V compound semiconductors which are in use today for a variety of discrete and small scale integrated devices such as radio-frequency amplifiers, microwave devices and semiconductor lasers. The prototype announced today has a gate length of 85 nm - and is well behind today's mass-produced transistors, which typically have a gate length of 50 nm in a 90 nm production process. The 65 nm chip generation, which will debut late December or early January, will reduce the transistor gate length to 35 nm.

However, according to Intel, the InSb transistor already operates at 0.5 volts - roughly half of that for transistors in today's chips. The company said that the technology "could add significant battery life for mobile devices and increase opportunities for building smaller more powerful products," but declined to say when InSb may be an option for mass production.