Almost since Moore’s Law was proposed in 1965, chipmakers have been wringing their hands over the day when they can no longer keep up—when they can’t pack twice the number of transistors onto a square-inch of chip every two years. Transistors are the microscopic switches that make electronics work. Each one contains a gate that stops or releases current running through a silicon channel. In most designs, the gate sits on top of the channel.
As engineers designed smaller transistors, though, the gates couldn’t completely close, so energy would leak through. To solve the problem, Intel engineers developed a 3-D transistor for the Ivy Bridge microprocessor; they raised the channel so the gate now wraps around it on three sides, rather than one. As a result, they can fit more of the 22-nanometer-thin transistors onto a chip. The processor is both faster and more energy efficient—and chipmakers can momentarily rest easy.
Size: 1.5 square inches
Transistors: 1.4 billion
Price: From $150