Intel’s Breakthrough

Intel has traditionally maintained a monopoly in the computer processor market. In recent years, its grip on that market has slipped as computing devices have shrunk to include handsets and tablets. Such devices require nimble processors that can operate on low power to provide long run time between charges. For mobile device processors, most manufacturers turn to the British chip manufacturer ARM. This week’s Intel announcement may change that.

Intel has announced a new technology that allows the company to move from flat two-dimensional chip production to 3D chips. So rather than laying out circuits over a flat surface, Intel will soon begin manufacturing chips in layered surfaces creating processing cubes. Bits will no longer be limited to flowing horizontally across a chip’s surface. They will be free to flow in all directions through the processing cube. The new technology is code-named Ivy Bridge. It allows processors to run faster with less energy by placing processor components closer together. The components are a lot smaller as well. Intel’s current line of chips are created at 32 nm, and the new Ivy Bridge processors will shrink that down to 22 nm. It looks as though Moore’s law lives on.

Just to refresh your memory on nanometers. A human hair is around 100,000 nm in width, a blood cell is around 5700 nm, a germ is about 1,000 nm, a virus is around 40 nm, and DNA is 2.5 NM. So Intel is manufacturing processor components that are about halfway between the size of a virus and DNA.

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