Intel Shows Off 45nm Progress Thanks To High-K Metal Gate Transistors

When things are going good companies like to brag and tout their stuff and that is exactly what Intel is doing tonight. With the embargo lifted on Intel's new 'High-k + Metal Gate Transistor Breakthrough' we can now talk about how Intel is now able to ramp up 45nm production for processors that will be coming out later this year on the mobile, desktop and server families. 

Intel Metal Gate Transistors

Intel is pleased that the 'law' Gordon E. Moore came up with in 1965 is still holding true 42 years later now that we have entered in 2007. Back in 1965 Moore saw that the number of transistors on an integrated circuit doubles every 24 months. For those that have not seen the April 19th, 1965 Electronics Magazine copy here is what was said:

"The complexity for minimum component costs has increased at a rate of roughly a factor of two per year ... Certainly over the short term this rate can be expected to continue, if not to increase. Over the longer term, the rate of increase is a bit more uncertain, although there is no reason to believe it will not remain nearly constant for at least 10 years. That means by 1975, the number of components per integrated circuit for minimum cost will be 65,000. I believe that such a large circuit can be built on a single wafer."

To keep up with Moore's Law Intel has had to keep shrinking the size of a processors core and has recently been able to produce processors on the 45nm process thanks to improvements in the way transistor gates have been made.

Intel Metal Gate Transistors

Compared to Intel's current 65nm process the 45nm process they moving over to is said to double the transistor density, while also improving leakage and performance levels.  The performance and leakage improvements are due to the fact that Intel has now successfully developed a method to produce high-k + metal gate transistors.

Intel Metal Gate Transistors

Not much has changed over the years when it comes to transistors, but that is no longer true now that high-k + metal gate transistors have been shown to work in real life. Intel has had working high-k + metal gate transistors since 2003, but just recently has been able to implement the technology with the 45nm manufacturing process that will ramp up later this year.  The 'new' parts of this transistor are the gate dielectric now consists of a 'high-k' material and the gate electrode itself is now made of metal.  By converting SiO2 gate dielectric to high-k it allows thickening the dielectric layer while also increasing the gate field effect resulting in increased “on”current, decreased “off”current and significantly decreased gate leakage. 

Intel Metal Gate Transistors

By moving from polysilicon gate transistors to metal gate transistors Intel has been able to improve the drive current by greater than 20% and has significantly reduced leakage.  After hearing of the news of the new transistor, Intel co-founder Gordon Moore made the following statement:

'The implementation of high-k and metal gate materials marks the biggest change in transistor technology since the introduction of polysilicon gate MOS transistors in the late 1960s'

Now that we have covered the technical aspect of the high-k + metal gate transistors that make 45nm processor a reality we can see what this means for consumers in the second half of this year.

Intel's 45nm Family of Penryn Processors

Intel has been able to nail down their high-k + metal gate transistor technology and the next generation dual-core and quad-core processors will have the new transistors. The first processor family to use this new technology will be Penryn, which is the next generation Intel Core 2 processor.

Intel Metal Gate Transistors

When we reviewed Intel's Core 2 Duo processor we were amazed by how it contained 291 million transistors, but that is nothing compared to the 410 million transistors found on the dual-core Penryn die. A quad-core processor will have a pair of these dies and thus have 820 million transistors on a single LGA775 processor.  Thanks to the high-k + metal gate technology the 45nm part will benefit from clock rate improvements at the same thermal envelope that current Core 2 processors have.  Rumor has it that Intel will be launching Penryn processors with clock frequencies well over 3GHz.  In addition to the increased frequency Intel is also planning on adding cache and we suspect the bulk of the additional 119 million transistors will be dedicated to the increased cache. As if higher clock rates and more cache isn't enough Intel also has added SSE4 instructions that are said to greatly help in some integer and floating point operations. 

Intel Metal Gate Transistors

Intel had select press out to visit yesterday where they had five systems up and running Penryn series processors on mobile, desktop and server systems.  Intel plans on rolling out processors for all three of these platforms in the second half of 2007.  There was no mention of quad-core mobile processors, but 45nm dual-core mobile parts are on the way this year. The five working systems were configured as the following:

Intel Metal Gate Transistors

Intel has had working Penryn samples since November 2006, but just recently booted a vast number of operating systems.  Intel provided the above picture of the Penryn group the night the first Silicon booted Windows XP up at D1D in Oregon.

Intel Metal Gate Transistors

As previously mentioned Intel is on track for getting 45nm parts out in mass during the second half of this year and if all goes as planned it won't be too long for 32nm lithography begins!

Intel Metal Gate Transistors

To sum it all up the high-k + metal gate transistor breakthrough has paved the way for 45nm processors to enter mass production and laid the ground work for improved performance. Intel seems to be running ahead of schedule with 45nm and it wouldn't be shocking if they pulled in the release of the microprocessors to try and steal some thunder from AMD and their upcoming K8L processor line that has been kept quiet.  The rumor mill around Intel's upcoming parts has been running wild the past year and it continues to this day.  The most recent rumor is that Penryn processors will bring back Hyper-Threading.  Intel public relations had this to say when asked about HT and Penryn: 'It's a technology we pioneered for mainstream computers and we've left the door open to bring it back, but are not going to speculate at this time.' While the answer isn't really direct it does give some insight into what Intel might be up to in the future.  If one was to ask Intel if DDR1 memory was coming back, I'm not sure they would have replied with the door was left open.  Legit Reviews also asked Intel about what chipsets support Penryn and if current motherboard would work and they again declined to directly answer the question and only said that minor BIOS and electrical changes would be needed and that Intel couldn't say that one of today's boards would work for sure. With upcoming enthusiast chipsets like X38/ICH9 one could only guess that enthusiasts would want a chipset upgrade anyway, so does it really matter?