Innovation Blog

Can Intel Innovate?   Toward 3D Chips

By Shlomo Maital

Celebrating My 500th Blog!



 Intel 3D Transistor


 Can Intel innovate? Of course they can – they develop new microprocessors and chipsets every year.

  But again – can they really innovate?

  On a visit to an Intel building here in Haifa, I once chose to take the stairs instead of the elevator.  In the staircase was a prominent sign:  Hold On to the Handrail!  And I thought – how in the world can an organization foster innovation and risk-taking, when it cautions its workers to hold on to the handrail?  In innovation, there are no handrails – only chasms. 

   According to,

  “Intel will begin high-volume manufacturing of chips featuring the world’s first three-dimensional transistor, the company said Wednesday.   “The gains these transistors provide are really unprecedented,” said Bill Holt, senior vice president and general manager of Intel’s technology Manufacturing Group at a press conference in San Francisco.   Intel will introduce its 3D transistor design, called Tri-Gate, as it transitions to its next-generation, 22-nanometer silicon manufacturing process at the end of this year and through 2012, Holt said. Tri-Gate transistors will be used in all of Intel’s product lines, from high-end server chips to the tiny, low-power processors that go into mobile devices like smartphones and tablets, including the Atom embedded processor. The 3D transistor will be a standard part of Intel’s 22-nm process, and its factories will be upgraded to support the new technology, executives said. “

    What does all this mean in simple language?  According to Intel Architecture Group Senior VP David (Dadi) Perlmutter,  with the new 3D technology,  the electrons go “up, left, and down.”  Previously, they just went left or right.   According to, “Perlmutter said that the improved transistor will result in improved processor performance, although he declined to say whether clock frequency would be increased as a consequence. Users should also expect Intel’s notebook chips to run at even lower power consumption at the same clock speed, potentially extending battery life further.”

   Perlmutter has led two previous Intel revolutions.  He and two friends, as relatively junior Intel engineers in Israel, persuaded Andy Grove to reverse a key decision and instead of going with RISC technology, remain with SISC and develop the Pentium, continuing backward compatibility with previous Intel microprocessors. Later, Pentium led development of the Centrino chipset, which reversed a cherished Intel business design by giving up some power for longer battery life and cooler chips (“Unwire your world”).  Now, Perlmutter seems to be taking Intel toward 3D technology, trying to regain lost ground in the smartphone market in particular. 

    Can Intel innovate?  Let’s watch carefully whether the 3D adventure yields bottom-line results.