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R&D innovation: nano-scale to tera-scale

January 29, 2008

Justin Rattner, VP and Senior Fellow CTO, Intel Corp., while speaking at the recently held CXO Forum organized by the India Semiconductor Association (ISA), highlighted the various innovations Intel has created over the years and continues to do so.

There are some hurdles to innovation. For instance, success brings conservatism and then, there is the curse of high-volume manufacturing. It led to Andy Grove’s famous statement: “Only the paranoid survive”. Obviously, massive inertia and innovation do not blend. Rattner mentioned certain external hurdles, especially, anti-Innovation policies and standards that hamper innovation.

Moore’s Law drives innovation
Moore’s Law has been driving innovation at Intel. These have been in the form of high-K metal gate transistors at 45nm — the first new transistor architecture in 35 years! There’s more, in form of phase change memory (PCM) below 45nm, non-planar tri-gate transistor beyond 32nm, and carbon nanotube transistor

Some recent multi-disciplinary innovations include 45nm Core 2 Duo, Nehalem uArch, power management, quad core through package technology, Silverthorne/LPIA, USB/PCI Express, vPro, and WiMAX and 802.11n, respectively. Intel has made sustained Advances in silicon technology. In 2007, it developed 32nm SRAM with 1.9 billion transistors, with 32nm slated for 2009.

Sustained advances in micro-architecture include Intel Core — new microarchitecture 65nm (2006), Penryn compaction/derivative at 45nm (2007), Nehalem — new microarchitecture 45nm (2008), Westmere compaction/derivative 32nm (2009), and Sandy Bridge new microarchitecture 32nm (2010). “This shows our sustained microprocessor leadership,” added Rattner.

There are plans to further reinvigorate Intel architecture — by high throughput computing, IA programmability, ease of scaling for software, array of enhanced IA cores, and increasing teraflops of performance. Its 45nm Silverthorne is based on the Menlow platform and promises ‘Full Internet in Your Pocket.’

Intel has also made advances in integration and packaging, such as multi chip packages, Wifi + WiMAX, processor + chipsets + accelerators, 60 percent smaller CPU packages, and 100 percent lead-free technology*. By 2008, Intel is committed to having all 45nm CPUs halogen free.

Innovations in memory, communications
Intel has also made innovations in memory technology. Robson Technology, which has NAND Flash cache, has 1.5X faster application load times, has 1.5X resume from hibernate, gives 0.4W average power savings, and is used in the Santa Rosa platform.

The other innovation is solid-state drives. These are embedded in a range of devices, from handhelds to servers. Compared to HDDs, these give 1/10th the power, >10X performance, and are 1,000X more durable.

Innovations in communication technology include things like adaptive antenna and front-ends, digital CMOS radio, and reconfigurable baseband. Intel has also developed the world’s 1st TeraFLOPS supercomputer on a die. It features 80 cores, 1TFLOP at 62W, and 256 GB/s bisection.

Intel has also unleashed the era of tera. These are in the form of tera bits –- Si Photonics and tera bytes –- 3D stacked memory. The latter includes 256KB SRAM per core, 4X C4 bump density, and 3200 thru-silicon vias.

Similarly, Intel’s innovation in tera-scale software include RMS workloads, C++ for parallelism, Ct for nested data parallelism (race-free irregular parallel computation), and hardware assisted STM C transactional memory, which ensures concurrent access with no errors.

Intel has also done innovations for emerging regions. Rattner touched upon Research (at the Berkeley Lablet), which involves a long-distance WiFi solution: 6Mb/s at 100+ km. This has been tested at the Aravind Eye Hospital in Tamil Nadu. It has allowed doctor/patient videoconferences. Thirteen rural villages have been connected so far, going on to 50 villages. The impact has been tremendous — 2,500 exams per month, over 30,000 so far; cataracts, glaucoma, cornea problems have been diagnosed; and 3,000 people have had their vision restored so far.

Intel has also been a champion in innovating through collaboration. These have been in form of academic open-collaborative (pre-competitive research) — Carnegie Mellon, Berkeley, University of Washington; industrial partnerships (product differentiation) — an example being the ciscointelalliance.com, and consortium (ecosystem benefit) — via the ISA, Continua, Innovation Value Institute, Trusted Computing Group, etc.

Intel’s focus areas for 2008 include:
a) tera-scale computing — unleashing the next generation of applications.
b) Platform* on a chip (POC) — ‘Platform’ integration on chip with IA.
c) Trusted services — technologies for secure service opportunities.
d) Carry small, live large — context aware usage models and platforms.
e) Ultimate connectivity — connected ‘all-ways’ for future platforms.

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