Intel Set to Cross Its Ivy Bridge

Carl Weinschenk
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The Ivy Bridge processor is thought to represent a significant move forward for Intel and the industry. And, according to Ars Technica - based on a report in DigiTimes - that move may be happening a bit earlier than expected.

The report suggests that the release of Ivy Bridge may be moved up to April 23. That's only a week earlier than originally thought, but it signifies the level of anticipation and enthusiasm for the new processors, which the story says is set for use with ultrabooks from ASUS, Acer, Lenovo and HP. More significant rollouts are reported in the story to be coming in June.

PCWorld reports that a redesigned Apple MacBook Pro will be the first to use Ivy Bridge. Indeed, it could be available on April 24, if the introduction of the processor indeed does take place the day before. Circumstantial evidence that this may happen is that, according to the story, a shortage of 15-inch MacBook Pros now may mean that production of the soon-to-be-antiquated model is slowing in anticipation of the redesign.

Intel is a big backer of ultrabooks, and Ivy Bridge is a key building block. Ivy Bridge, according to IT World, may also be used in tablets; eWeek says that it could be used in microservers and lower-power systems. Intel clearly has big plans for Ivy Bridge. What makes the processor different is explained very well via Intel videos that were posted at Engadget about a year ago.

Transistors let electrons pass (the "on" position) or block them ("off"). To date, this has been done on a flat, or planar, surface. The innovation driving Ivy Bridge - which is depicted well in the main video - is that the surface of the transistor carrying the electrons now extends upward, sort of like a brick resting on one of the two long sides. The process of stopping the electrons or letting them proceed occurs on the short top and two long sides of the path. This innovation, called "3D Tri-gate" by Intel, enables more transistors to be placed closer together and reduces the power draw. Here is how Engadget puts it:

Intel says the transistors will use 50 percent less power, conduct more current and provide 37 percent more speed than their 2D counterparts thanks to vertical fins of silicon substrate that stick up through the other layers, and that those fancy fins could make for cheaper chips too -- currently, though, the tri-gate tech adds an estimated 2 to 3 percent cost to existing silicon wafers.

The world of processors is complex to outsiders. The bottom line is that there is a constant struggle to add speed to keep pace with Moore's Law. A big part of the effort is increasing the density of transistors in a microprocessor. It seems that Ivy Bridge, which is weeks away from being introduced, is a potent tool to do this.

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