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Intel builds world's smallest transistors
Monday, December 11, 2000, 8:33

Intel said it has developed the world's smallest transistors, which could boost chip speeds sixfold in five years and lead to devices previously considered the realm of science fiction.

The No. 1 computer-chip maker plans release details in the US on Monday about the transistors, which are just 30 nanometers - three-millionths of a centimtere - thick. It expects to sell 400 million-transistor processors able to do 400 million calculations in the time it takes to blink. Intel's first Pentium chip in 1993 had 3.1 million transistors, and the new Pentium 4 has 42 million.

The achievement will make it possible to build chips running 10 billion operations a second in 2005; today's best Pentium 4 runs 1.5 billion, Intel said. The greater power isn't needed for word-processing and data-entry work, though it could enable devices such as a handheld language translator that would allow an English-speaking tourist in France to talk with a French-speaking shop owner in real time, the company said.

``We're getting very close to the limit with thickness,'' said Richard Doherty, research director at Envisioneering Group, a technology-assessment and market research firm in Seaford, New York.

A stack of more than 100,000 of the 30-nanometer transistors, which act as switches to control the flow of electricity in a chip, would equal the thickness of a sheet of paper, said Tom Beermann, a spokesman for Santa Clara, California-based Intel. A nanometer is a billionth of a meter.

The transistors, built using today's manufacturing tools, materials and processes, show that the traditional chip industry has a lot of life left, analysts said.

``This is proving there's no reason the normal growth of the semiconductor industry can't continue on for probably another 10 years,'' said Jim Handy, an analyst at Dataquest Inc.

Intel plans to present its findings at an engineering conference in San Jose, California, this week.


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