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Intel, Qinetiq build ultra-low power transistor

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Intel's ongoing partnership with UK-based technology R&D company Qinetiq to investigate future transistor designs has yielded some "hugely promising" results, the duo announced yesterday.

For the past two years, the two companies have collaborated on an exploration of the use of indium antimonide (InSb) in the construction of transistors.

Qinetiq undertook the foundation work on InSb for the UK Ministry of Defence, part of a project to investigate materials suitable for future military-grade electronics components.

According to Qinetiq, InSb enables a higher switch performance as well as a very low voltage operation. Transistors made from the material would consume a tenth of the energy gobbled up by today's transistors yet deliver the same performance. Or they could be used to triple performance for the same power consumption, the company says.

The InSb R&D programme is still in its "initial phase", so it's some way from commercial application - assuming, of course, that the material behaves as expected when used to produce real products. So far, the pair have produced a 'depletion mode', 'quantum well' InSb NMOS transistor, which are inherently switched on and can be turned off only applying a negative voltage to the gate. That's not how CPU transistors operate, and the next stage will be to see whether InSb helps or hinders performance in switches that more closely match those found in working processors.

InSb isn't the only avenue Intel is exploring. The company has research underway into a number of materials that may form the basis for future chip technology.

"Indium antimonide is one example of several new materials that Intel will continue to investigate in order to ensure that Moore's Law extends well beyond the next decade," said Ken David, director of components research for Intel's Technology and Manufacturing Group, in a statement. ®

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