Intel Corporation will use integrated silicon technologies to drive the convergence of computing and communications over the next decade, enabling a digital future that makes electronic devices simpler, less expensive and easier to use.
Speaking at the Intel Developer Forum, Fall 2002, Intel Chief Technology Officer Pat Gelsinger and Intel Senior Vice President Sunlin Chou said silicon technologies that integrate computing and communications functions would bring the benefits associated with Moore's Law to areas such as wireless and optical communications. They also disclosed that Intel would extend the life of Moore's Law well into the future through advanced research in silicon nanotechnology. Moore's Law states that the transistor density on integrated circuits doubles every couple of years, resulting in increased performance and decreased cost.
Expanding Moore's Law
"We believe that integrated silicon will deliver innovative, ubiquitous and low-cost technologies to enable a world in which all computers will communicate and all communication devices will compute," Gelsinger said.
Some of the technologies Intel is pursuing include the development of "silicon radios" based on the company's low-power CMOS manufacturing process. Over the next few years, these radios will be integrated into future Intel chips, so any device powered by one of those chips would have wireless radio communication capabilities.
In addition, Gelsinger demonstrated a tunable laser using silicon photonics and said Intel's research is on track to apply Moore's Law toward building highly integrated components that marry digital functionality and silicon-based opto-electronic devices on a single chip. The goal of this research is to dramatically lower the cost of optical networks by integrating component technologies into low-cost silicon building blocks.
Finally, referring to a technology known as "sensor nets," Gelsinger said the benefits of low-cost sophisticated silicon sensors that can compute and communicate are already being realized today in real-world field tests. One such field trial is currently in place in Great Duck Island, Maine, where researchers from Intel Research Berkeley Lab and the College of the Atlantic are deploying and using wireless sensor networks -- sensor nets -- to study the microhabitats on the island.
The sensors, which consist of chips with temperature, humidity, barometric pressure and infrared sensors, allow scientists to do non-intrusive monitoring of wildlife and habitats. The environmental data is sent to the Internet via a satellite link, so that researchers can download the information in real-time. The sensor net technology provides a new way to track environmental data that is less disruptive to the microhabitats than using humans.
While Intel continues advanced research on the miniaturization of sensors integrated in silicon, the company is also establishing the software tools for programming sensor networks to enable the industry to take advantage of the technology more quickly.
Extending Moore's Law with Nanotechnology
Intel's research and development work on new silicon technologies, materials and device structures that could extend Moore's Law include Extreme Ultraviolet (EUV) lithography, new transistor gate dielectrics and transistor structures, in addition to innovations such as strained silicon that will be put into production on Intel's 90nm manufacturing process next year.
"We will continue to drive Moore's Law by building more capabilities into our silicon through advanced research and investment in nanotechnology," said Chou. "Intel has been the leader in the nanotechology era by producing CPUs using sub-100 nanometer transistors for the last two years. Our research goes well beyond next year's 90 nanometer technology to evaluate longer term options that will continue to renew silicon technology and extend its scalability into the next decade."
Chou said that one of Intel's research projects on Terahertz transistors (high-speed transistors that Intel plans to put into production in the second part of the decade) focuses on experimental high-performance, non-planar triple-gate CMOS transistors (called Tri-Gate transistors). This type of transistor moves away from the current "planar" (flat) design, and instead is designed using a three-dimensional architecture, which increases the surface area of the transistor gate, thus increasing performance and enabling higher speed processors. Such transistors would require further improvement before going into production in the second half of the decade.
Chou also noted that Intel researchers are collaborating with universities on long-term nanotechnology projects, such as carbon nanotubes and silicon nanowires, conducting or semiconducting structures that may one day provide enhanced transistor performance. Intel expects the practical use of nanotubes or nanowires as computing devices to be at least ten years away.
Gelsinger and Chou challenged the audience to work together to continue innovation focused on driving the converged digital future through silicon integration.