Intel has announced a significant breakthrough in chip design that opens the door to smaller, faster, more power-efficient processors. First disclosed by Intel in 2002, the company's 3D tri-gate transistors will replace the traditional two-dimensional transistors in the chipmaker's upcoming 22nm Ivy Bridge processors -- the successor to Sandy Bridge.

Unlike conventional planar transistors that lay flat, tri-gate transistors use a three-dimensional fin that stands vertically from the silicon substrate. Orienting the transistors upright presents several benefits. For starters, Intel can cram more transistors into less space, which will be incredibly valuable as fabrication tech shrinks to 22nm and beyond.

In addition to doubling transistor density, the new design exposes three sides of the transistor to a gate instead of one. Transistors carry an electrical signal while gates control that flow by turning the current on and off. By increasing the surface area of the transistor that is touching the gate, it gains additional control over the flow of electricity.

The video above does an excellent job of breaking things down. All you really need to know is that the company expects 22nm chips with tri-gate transistors to reduce power consumption by more than 50% with 37% more performance than Intel's existing 32nm technology. New 22nm tri-gate wafers should be cheaper to produce, as well.

"The performance gains and power savings of Intel's unique 3-D Tri-Gate transistors are like nothing we've seen before," said Intel's Mark Bohr. "This milestone is going further than simply keeping up with Moore's Law…We believe this breakthrough will extend Intel's lead even further over the rest of the semiconductor industry," Bohr continued.

During the same event, Intel demonstrated its new Ivy Bridge processors in action. The company showed three different form factors performing separate actions: a notebook playing an HD video, a web server launching a webpage, and a desktop playing a racing game. Nothing too exciting, but it's a sneak peek at Ivy Bridge nonetheless.