Will Intel Unveil Revolutionary Tri-Gate Transistors Wednesday?

Intel investors, take note: When the world's largest semiconductor maker holds its press conference Wednesday, keep your ears open for the words "tri-gate transistor." The unveiling of such ready-for-prime-time transistors would be a monumental advancement for the chip giant, say Wall Street analysts.

Intel (INTC), which is keeping the details of what's being announced strictly under wraps, will only say that this will be "its most significant technology announcement of the year," notes a CNBC report. But should the announcement be that its long-awaited tri-gate transistors, which it alluded to as far back as 2006, are finally ready for production, that would be a real show stopper, analysts say.

"This architecture will separate the men from the boys," said one Wall Street analyst. "No one else has a tri-gate transistor in volume production."

Transistors are part of a chip's architecture, which is rarely overhauled. But as chip companies repeatedly shrink the size of their chips, eventually they have to change that architecture -- the recipe for how the chips are built. The analyst noted that very few semiconductor companies can afford to retool their chips' architecture as they get smaller and still maintain the benefit of Moore's law. Under Moore's law, the number of transistors on a chip is expected to double roughly every two years, substantially boosting the power and performance of the chip.

According to Intel's 2006 sneak peak at its plan for tri-gate transistors:

The integrated CMOS tri-gate transistors will play a critical role in Intel's energy-efficient performance philosophy because they have a lower leakage current and consume less power than planar transistors.

Because tri-gate transistors greatly improve performance and energy efficiency, they enable Intel to extend the scaling of silicon transistors. Intel expects that the tri-gate transistors could become the basic building block for microprocessors in future technology nodes. The technology can be integrated into an economical, high-volume manufacturing process, leading to high-performance and low-power products.

Back then, it was predicted that chips with tri-gate transistors would be on the market by 2010.

Alternative Theories

Some of the other predictions of what may be unveiled tomorrow include an Atom processor that consumes less power for mobile phones and tablet computers, according to CNBC.

Meanwhile, the electronics engineering website EE Times speculated that Intel may be unveiling its 22-nanometer chips. The silicon giant noted last fall at its Intel Developers Forum that it was on schedule to market its 22-nm chips during the second half of this year. Those chips are expected to use planar technology -- a flat surface -- rather than vertical tri-gate transistors.

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