RealTime IT News

AMD Slims Down to Fight Intel

Hoping to take some steam out of Intel's momentum in the chip market, AMD Tuesday said it has fabricated the smallest double-gate transistors to date using industry standard technology. AMD hopes to use these for the creation of more powerful, yet smaler, chips.

"Transistor development is essential to the creation of higher-performing products for our customers," said Craig Sander, AMD's vice president of Technology Development. "The entire semiconductor industry is working to meet the increasing challenges of developing new transistor designs that are smaller and higher-performing and yet can be manufactured with minimal deviation from today's industry standard manufacturing processes."

Transistors are the miniscule on/off switches that make up the integrated circuits in today's microprocessors.

AMD's new transistor, called The Fin Field Effect Transistor (FinFET), measures in at ten nanometers, approximately six times smaller than the smallest transistors currently in production.

The FinFET design relies upon a thin vertical silicon "fin" to help control leakage of current through the transistor when it is in the "off" stage. This design combination allows for the creation of new chips with enhanced performance and ever-shrinking geometries.

Despite the enhanced performance and ever-shrinking size of chips, some worry about the cost of all the R&D when margins for the industry are so tight.

"The outlook for processor vendors is bleak, volume is flat and average sales prices continue to drop pretty quickly," said Brooks Gray, director of Hampton, New Hampshire-based, Technology Business Research. "In the near term and for the foreseeable future, the cost reductions and die size reductions aren't translating to improved margin levels."

While AMD has been making some small gains against long-time market leader Intel , it has had difficulty making serious headway or enough product differentiation to move the masses away from the brand familiarity of Intel.

According to Mercury Research, Intel dominated the market, with 82.8 percent of the worldwide market for processors, up two percentage points from its first quarter market share, and up nearly six points up from the 77.1 percent share from the same period last year. AMD lost 2.6 percent of market share from the last quarter to occupy 15.6 percent of the market.

Intel, itself, is generating buzz this week, hosting its developers forum in San Jose, an event filled with opportunities to flex the company's latest development.

AMD will have to wait until December's International Electron Devices Meeting to officially present their findings on the tiny new transformer. The development of the transformer and the laboratory demonstration are the outcome of collaborative research between AMD and the University of California, Berkeley with support from the Semiconductor Research Corporation (SRC).

While the advance looks promising for AMD going forward, application of the new technology may be years down the line.

"The superior leakage control characteristics make FinFET transistors an attractive candidate for future nano-scale CMOS generations, which are expected to be in manufacturing within the next decade," said Dr. Tsu-Jae King, Associate Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Sciences at U.C. Berkeley. "The FinFET device characteristics indicate strong potential for extending the scalability of CMOS technology."