Silicon goes 3D

San Francisco (CA) - The reorganization of business units at Intel also affected traditions at IDF: For the first time in several years, it was not the former CTO Pat Gelsinger who presented the outlook. Justin Rattner, former director of the firm's microprocessor development and newly appointed head of the corporate technology group informed us about tech that is cooking in Intel's labs.

A keynote at IDF certainly meant for Justin Rattner and Intel breaking with traditions. For once, despite he is widely believed to be one of Intel's smartest and the brain behind major Intel processors of the past two decades, Rattner is of rather quiet nature and typically remained in the background of major events. At most, we heard his speeches at smaller conferences such as the Microprocessor Forum. On the other side, the keynote marked a departure of Pat Gelsinger from a habit he had been doing for quite some time. But Gelsinger took seat in the first row of the keynote room to have a good look at how Rattner managed to give his first industry outlook speech at IDF.

So, how did Justin Rattner? He did well. Following the theme of the previous keynotes, he built on the platform topic, explaining which new applications could be enabled through which new technologies Intel has on its roadmap within the next ten years or so. He described how researchers at Intel are studying the types of tasks people will want their electronics products to do, then using that knowledge to drive hardware and software technology development that are believed to serve as the foundation for more intelligent future platforms.

"Imagine a phone that can translate languages in real time so you can talk to people in other countries more easily, or finding a photo of your children playing with a pet from among the thousands of photos you have stored in multiple computers in your house," said Rattner. "These tasks might seem simple, but they require levels of performance, sophistication and intelligence in both hardware and software that don't exist today. To deliver these capabilities in products that are easy to use and attractive to many people requires that we, as an industry, rethink our approach to platform development."

One of the hardware technlogies to be a vehicle to deliver performance increase is a similar technology that Infineon uses in its recently announced dual-die DDR2 memory modules. When more and more transistors require more and more area space on a package and scaling of the production process is not enough anymore, the industry might switch to an approach which is referred to as "die-stacking". Multiple dies will be attached on top of eachother, growing the chip's height and taking advantage the 3D real estate available in a system. According to Rattner, silicon could also be massproduced in a "wafer-stacking" process down the road.

For example, a DVD video source could be upsampled to HD resolution - or a low-resolution web-video could be brought up to DVD quality. Users however should not expect this technology to be available anytime soon, due to its enormous performance requirements. According to Rattner, video upsampling calls for 100 times the processor performance available in a system today. Intel believes that processor aperformance will increase "only" by the factor 10 until 2008.