Intel Tri-Gate 3D processor aims to beat the heat, boost performance

The new Intel Tri-Gate chip is designed to use less energy and provides faster speeds. This 3D processor line may help VARs solve clients’ data center problems.

Infrastructure VARs excited about the speed improvements and energy savings of Intel’s latest processors have even more advancements to look forward to as the company moves to a three-dimensional processor design.

The shift to a 3D processor (called Intel Tri-Gate) is necessary for future performance and efficiency gains. It has enormous implications for reducing the heat produced by systems and for compressing the amount of space that components need in the typical data center chassis, according to custom system builders.

The technology isn’t likely to show up in client hardware for three to four years, but it will be a big deal earlier on for the server market. As data centers become more dense, many IT managers are struggling to balance performance gains with limitations in power distribution and cooling infrastructure. 

“How much equipment can be deployed is often not as limited by space as it is limited by power,” said Chuck Orcutt, product manager for Nexlink, the product line made by system builder Seneca Data Distributors Inc. in North Syracuse, N.Y. “In some cases, it comes down to the design of the board or the chassis; it is really important to design the exact correct solution for the client’s application.”

Inside Intel Tri-Gate

The Intel Xeon processor E5-2600 product portfolio (codenamed Sandy Bridge) rolled out earlier this month and is designed to increase server performance by up to 80%. It also improves energy efficiency by up to 50%, according the benchmarks Intel uses in its introduction materials. A major server refresh wave includes line updates from all the usual top-tier OEM suspects, which could be good news for technology providers that want to sell to customers that have been postponing refreshes.

Intel Tri-Gate (codenamed Ivy Bridge), the 3D processor line, will be at the center of the next wave of updates. A new 22-nanometer manufacturing process makes it all possible, and Intel is putting it in place throughout 2012. Intel will eventually use the design across its entire chip portfolio, from chips for tiny mobile gadgets up to those in high-end servers. The design moves electrons across three dimensions (instead of the two dimensions found in current chips) and enables them to operate at lower voltages without sacrificing performance, according to Intel.

“The reason for 3D from Intel’s standpoint is to keep Moore’s Law consistent,” said Tim Bajarin, president of Creative Strategies Inc., the Campbell, Calif.-based analyst firm. “From a pure consumer standpoint, at the processor level that means you can have much faster chips at a lower power draw.”

The benefits of Intel-Tri Gate

Charles Liang, chairman, CEO and president of Super Micro Computer Inc., a systems builder based in San Jose, Calif., said his organization anticipates an additional 30% to 50% improvement in server performance as a result of the Intel Tri-Gate 3D processor approach. At the same time, he expects that it will reduce power consumption by 30% to 40%.

“For sure, this will make IT more green,” he said. “For really high-performance systems, which includes lots of our architecture, this will be a way to better address the heat issues.”

About the expert
Heather Clancy is an award-winning business journalist in the New York City area with more than 20 years’ experience. Her articles have appeared in Entrepreneur, Fortune Small Business, the International Herald Tribune and The New York Times. Clancy was previously editor at Computer Reseller News, a B2B trade publication covering news and trends about the high-tech channel.

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