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Intel going 3D for future CPUs

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Seems like everything's going 3D these days. Thanks a lot, James Cameron. Now even Intel's getting in on the act, but in a manner that sounds like it has more useful applications than the latest Sony TVs or Nintendo's 3DS. As a bonus, you also don't have to wear any goofy-looking glasses. The New York Times reports Intel has developed a technology called Finfet (or fin field-effect transistor) that will allow Intel to manufacture three-dimensional CPUs.

Until now, the conductive area of the transistors used in CPUs has been two-dimensional, which means that in order to pack a higher number of transistors within the same space, the transistors had to shrink to smaller sizes. Over the years, manufacturing tolerances have traditionally been the limiting factor in how small a transistor can get, but these CPU building blocks are now approaching a size where physics itself becomes a barrier to making them any smaller.

Intel's Finfet aims to work around this problem by building "fins" into the transistor structure, making the transistor's conductive area three-dimensional. Intel expects chips using this design to be 37 percent faster than current low-voltage chips while consuming half the power.

Not all chipmakers are convinced that going 3D is the right solution, and a few of them are taking a "wait and see" approach to Intel's Finfet technology. Intel plans to start producing chips using Finfet later this year, but there's obviously no indication yet when or even if chips using Finfet will find their way into future Macs. Intel's also admitted that the consumer "ecosystem" isn't a favorable market for Intel today, which may mean the chipmaker has its eye on crafting a Finfet-based competitor (or replacement) for Apple's A-series chips used in iOS devices.

In this article: chipmaker, CPU, finfet, Intel, Mac, transistor
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