13 November 2007— On 11 November Intel announced the release of 16 server and high-end PC processors based on the first fundamental redesign of the CMOS transistor in 40 years. The chips are built using a manufacturing process that can make structures as small as 45 nanometers. The transistors it makes aren’t just small; they include several materials not previously used. The gates are now made from metal instead of polycrystalline silicon, and the insulating layer between the gate and the transistor channel are made from a hafnium-based high-k dielectric material instead of silicon dioxide.
The materials switch eliminates a serious problem that has been plaguing transistors for the several generations. Transistors had shrunk to the point where quantum mechanical effects have been causing current to leak through the thin silicon dioxide insulation layer between the gate and the channel. Switching to a high-k dielectric stemmed the leak, but also necessitated a switch to a metal gate.
The specific chips the company is launching are 15 server processors under the Xeon Hi-k brand (it’s codename during development was Penryn). In addition it is launching a desktop processor called Intel Core 2 Extreme QX9650 quad core processor.
Intel started making the chips in late October at its newly tooled Fab 32 in Chandler, Ariz. The fab relies on automation software that has improved manufacturing efficiency and helped close the loop between production and R&D.