High-k gate insulators to stave off power leakage

— 3:48 AM on November 6, 2003

EE Times has the goods on Intel's solution to a greater microprocessor power leakage problem that could stall Moore's Law:

AUSTIN, Texas — Faced with intolerable levels of wasted power in its microprocessors, Intel Corp. said it will make the switch to a high-k gate insulator in 2007, reducing current leakage at the gate by at least 100 times.

At the 45-nm process node, Intel will make a double switch, replacing the tried-and-true silicon dioxide with an unidentified high-k insulator. At the same time, it will move from doped polysilicon for the gate electrode to two different metals, one for the NMOS and another for the PMOS transistors.

Intel isn't revealing which high-k insulator or gate electrode metals it will be using, but analysts are encouraged to see the company addressing the leakage issue.

Since Intel isn't planning on switching to high-k insulators and metal gate electrodes until 2007, new processors may be plagued with leakage problems for the next few years. Prescott, Intel's first 0.09-micron desktop processor, appears to be having significant leakage problems already. The chip hasn't been released yet, but its power consumption is reportedly in the neighborhood of 100W.

Intel may be able to use power saving technologies developed for its Pentium M mobile processor to help future desktop chips consume less power when idling, but that won't help when chips are under heavy loads. At least until 2007, Intel may have to rely on more aggressive air or even water cooling to help dissipate the heat generated by its fastest processors.

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