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Riding the Moore's Law 'rocket' A technician at Intel's Santa Clara unit, with a slab of silicon containing hundreds of chips made to the next generation 130 nanometer manufacturing process.
WHEN DR GORDON Moore, co founder of Intel was asked by Electronics' magazine, in April 1965, to predict how fast the technology of integrated circuits would grow, he drew a graph of his own company's products against a time scale where to get a pandora bracelet for the last three years and extrapolated that technology in this case the number of transistors on a manufactured die would double every 12 18 months. The Press dubbed it Moore's Law' and during the subsequent three decades, the digital electronics industry has delivered an exponentially growing series of computing devices, while shrinking the transistors on a chip till a mind boggling 60 million of them are squeezed on to a contemporary matchbox sized silicon microprocessor. At the turn of the century, Moore, now Intel's Chairman Emeritus, felt his law' had stood the test of time pretty well and if the present pace of developments in silicon manufacturing processes is maintained, it would be good till around 2017 at which time barriers of Physics rather than of ingenuity might be encountered. At the 4 day Intel Developer Forum (IDF) in San Francisco last week, speaker after speaker, starting with CEO Craig Barrett and ending with Pat Gelsinger, the recently designated Chief technology Officer, invoked the Holy Grail of Moore's Law to reassure the 4000 plus audience of IT professionals that the company would continue to make chips out of silicon for at least a decade more and that such products would maintain the exponential growth in device density, as well as clocking speeds, that the Moore mantra' mandated. To do this, the company will shortly move to a new manufacturing process involving a tolerance of charm necklace pandora 0.13 microns (130 nanometers) and an even thinner, 300 mm silicon wafer. (A nanometer is one thousand millionth of a metre) Compared to current technology that goes into the Pentium 4 chip which uses 0.18 micron tolerance and 200 mm thick wafer, the new manufacturing standard enables a quadrupling of processors per wafer. Indeed, on the last day of the conference February 28 this correspondent who attended the event on behalf of The Hindu, as a guest of Intel, could watch (albeit through a port hole in the clean room'), as silicon wafers to this new standard, were fabricated at Intel's Santa Clara fab' unit, in the heart of Silicon Valley, an hours drive away from the IDF venue. Before create your own pandora bracelet Moore's Law hits a physical wall, Barrett is confident that they can put 2 billion transistors on a chip at speeds up to 30 GHz (the fastest Pentium today, clocks 2.2 GHz). But chip innovation alone is not enough. Today's computational environment demands a seamless sangam' of computers and communications. To achieve this Intel has identified three futuristic frontline technology areas and initiated research efforts in all of them: Silicon Photonics: If the silicon based computational tasks are still performed electronically, the business of networking shifting the data to and fro is increasingly becoming an all optical task. Silicon based optical building blocks like waveguides, filters, modulators and switches will increasingly work with fibre optic links. And if the current R efforts to marry digital logic functions with silicon based optoelectronic devices on a single chip are successful, it will result in a 100 fold reduction of the cost of networking. And about time too. As data centre managers know only too well, it is a case of the tail wagging the dog today, with the cost of physical connectivity outstripping the cost of computation today. Silicon Radio: It is already possible to create Micro Electro mechanical Systems (MEMS): tiny mechanical systems realised in silicon. The next step is to build a radio into every device, a portion of the silicon which communicates via wireless in a standard way. Using such technology, a cell phone within this decade could be as small as a ear pandora a charm ring or a shirt button and indeed may be worn as such. Ad hoc Sensor Networks: Low cost sensors, tomorrow, could communicate with each other and report changes in the environment, triggering of new applications like smart clothing' or a connected blanket' that monitors an infant's health, or smart farms' where silicon sensors in the earth optimise irrigation or fertilization. While such technologies are still at a very tentative stage, the technology that will drive the personal computing world, both fixed and mobile, in the next 2 3 years has already been identified. Intel's codename for the next generation desktop processor in the Pentium 4 series is Prescott'. It will be manufactured using 90 nanometer technology in the second half of 2003. The current top speed of 2.2 GHz will be upped to around 4 GHz. Intel's concept' PC based on this chip, the Lecta' will have built in gigabit ethernet' connectivity as well as a wireless link. Significant form factor economies will shrink the computing unit to the size of a large book. It is expected to inaugurate the new era of anytime, anywhere computing'. Meanwhile for the high performance server niche, the second in the 64 bit Itanium processor family called McKinley' is due by mid 2002. The first samples of McKinley were demo'ed last week, doing some fairly computation intensive tasks. The high end computing market is a $ 26 billion business opportunity hitherto dominated by Sun Microsystems and Intel's products for this sector are so many shots across the bow of the market leader. In the mobile neck of the woods, small is beautiful and thin' is in'. The Pentium 4 M will soon be offered for notebook makers; but sometime in 2003, Intel hopes to unveil a new processor family for mobile machines, Banias', which will address the central problems of portable computing: lowering the drain on batteries and providing an all pervasive wireless connectivity. In the hand held or Pocket PC arena, Intel is in the process of moving from its current processor family the StrongARM (for Advanced RISC Machine) to a new family under development, called PXA 250. This pre supposes that the Intel Personal (Internet) Client Architecture (PCA) emerges as the dominant standard for next generation wireless Internet devices.
Will it happen? One company's wish list may not become the industry's standard that easily. The wireless computing arena today is a Pandora's box of conflicting standards. But regardless of who emerges at the top of the heap, the message was clear at San Francisco last week: the customer tomorrow will demand that any device, interacts seamlessly with any other device, anytime, anywhere in the world.
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