Earlier this week Intel CEO Brian Krzanich showed off a Windows 8 PC running a new chip code-named “Broadwell” and promised that devices shipping with it will be coming in 2014.
This chip will use a mind-boggling small architecture, only 14 nanometers (nm) thick, he said during his keynote speech at the Intel Developer Forum conference in San Francisco.
A nanometer is one-billionth of a meter. That’s about twice the size of a human blood cell, which is 6-10 nanometers big. It can’t be seen with the naked eye.
Broadwell is the chip that comes after Intel’s Haswell chip. Haswell PCs are just starting to hit the market now (like the latest Macbook Air). Haswell also uses impossibly small transistors: 22nm.
Shrinking the size of a transistor allows Intel to put more of them on a single processor. That means that chips grow more powerful while consuming less power. Broadwell will draw 30 per cent less power than Haswell, Krzanich said.
More power means more features. For instance Ultrabooks built on Broadwell will support 3D cameras built directly into the laptop. Ultimately, Intel envisions laptops with 3D gesture controls (like Kinect or Leap Motion), face recognition, eye-tracking and voice recognition, all made possible by super powerful chips, Kirk Skaugen, Intels senior vice president of PC clients said during his keynote at the IDF conference.
Shrinking transistors from 22nm to 14nm is a huge technical challenge because such tiny objects are influenced by quantum mechanics, which operate under a different set of properties than larger-sized objects. Intel is investing billions in new factories to create state-of-the art fabs that can manufacture them.
While pundits keep predicting that we’ve reached the technical limits of how small these transistors can become and still be affordably mass produced, Intel insists otherwise. It is now working on tech that will shrink the transistor even smaller, to 7nm, Intel execs say.
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