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Intel, Qinetiq tout quantum well transistor breakthrough

0.5V, 300GHz CPU, anyone?

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Intel's partnership with UK R&D company Qinetiq has borne further fruit: the pair this week said they had made a quantum-well transistor with a gate length of 85nm.

Quantum-well transistors are also known as high electron-mobility transistors, and they excite companies like Intel because of their ability to operate simultaneously at low voltages and very high clock speeds. They also dissipate far less heat than today's transistors.

The Intel/Qintiq quantum-well transistor is based on a material called indium antimonide (InSb), which Qinetiq has been researching for some time through is R&D partnership with the UK's Ministry of Defence. According to Qinetiq, transistors made from InSb would consume a tenth of the energy gobbled up by today's state-of-the-art transistors yet deliver the same performance. Or they could be used to triple performance for the same power consumption.

An 85nm gate-length may not sound impressive at a time when Intel and others are about to debut 65nm semiconductors before moving to 45nm in 2008, but it's a big improvement on the 200nm quantum-well transistor Intel and Qinetiq made last year. These are early days for the technique - Intel isn't expecting to be able to make use of it until around 2015.

The newest test transistor operates in 'enhancement mode', rather than the 'depletion mode' of the 200nm version produced last year. That means it more closely mimics the operational behaviour of the transistors found in modern CPUs. ®

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