Intel, Once Again, Plans to Remake Radio Circuitry
philmt59 at aol.com
Mon Feb 20 17:35:19 CST 2012
Just remember: in the end, ALL digital circuitry is destined to fall to bits.
On 20 Feb 2012, at 23:19, Mark Thompson wrote:
> Technology News and Insights
> FEBRUARY 19, 2012, 12:06 PM
> Intel, Once Again, Plans to Remake Radio Circuitry
> By Don Clark
> Intel has few peers when it comes to driving digital technology. Now the Silicon Valley giant believes it has penetrated one of the last bastions where another approach still prevails: radio.
> The company is using a technical conference in San Francisco this week to disclose progress in designing new versions of key radio components that are typically built using analog technology and different materials than the silicon used to create most digital chips.
> It’s referring to things like power amplifiers, transmitters, modulators and other “radio frequency” components, often collectively described by the initials RF.
> “We are getting close to having the complete kit of digital RF building blocks for these radios,” says Justin Rattner, Intel’s chief technology officer.
> Why should we care? It all comes back to Moore’s Law, the technology tenet Intel rides for all its worth.
> The relentless pace of transistor miniaturization that Intel co-founder Gordon Moore first described in 1965 keeps bringing us more inexpensive and useful microprocessors and memory chips, not to mention devices like laptop computers and iPhones.
> If RF circuitry can be produced in the same chip factories–with the same ever-declining cost per function–radios used to send data over networks like 4G or Wi-Fi can be much less expensive and ubiquitous, Rattner argues.
> A logical extension of this approach is to place RF components alongside others on a chip, saving space and energy and cost in products like smartphones. One of Intel’s papers at the International Solid-State Circuits Conference http://isscc.org/
> describes such a creation, a chip that has a Wi-Fi transceiver and two Intel Atom processor cores on the same piece of silicon.
> Devices called “system on a chip,” or SoCs, already are commonplace in cellphones. Many of them include a key communications device called a baseband processor alongside a conventional processor that runs application software on the device.
> But the RF components that actually modulate and amplify radio waves are usually kept separate, in part because their signals can interfere with operations on other parts of the chip, Rattner says.
> Mitigating that interference was a key part of the Intel effort, he adds, requiring collaboration from engineers in its research, development and manufacturing groups to come up with the right approach.
> The results give Intel “great confidence” that it will be able to come up with true single-chip products with RF components for phones, tablet computers and other devices where size and power consumption are paramount, says Rattner, while conceding that such developments are at least several years away.
> There’s reason to inject at least a note of skepticism here. A company that has bet its future on billion-dollar factories and the most advanced production processes may be expected to think that they are the most efficient way for producing just about anything.
> But many makers of analog chips have effectively, and profitably, done just the opposite–reducing costs steadily by using older manufacturing recipes, RF-friendly materials like silicon germanium and factories that were paid off decades ago.
> Intel’s credibility about timing is also subject to question. Rattner’s predecessor as Intel’s top technologist–Patrick Gelsinger, who is now a senior executive at EMC–ten years ago made similar statements to kick off an effort he called Radio Free Intel.
> “Those back at the ranch were scratching their heads,” recalls Rattner, who says Gelsinger was prescient in setting a technical goal but underestimated the time and effort required. “We spent the better part of the past decade figuring it all out.”
> Besides radio components, Intel is using the event known as ISSCC to present technical papers in a variety of other areas–particularly chips designed to sharply reduce power consumption by operating at close to the “threshold voltage” of transistors, the amount of current needed to turn them on.
> Another focus is on a new way for designing components known as floating-point units, which are involved in handling many mathematics operations.
> The approach uses “variable” precision–in some cases reducing the number of bits to express numbers in scientific calculations–which can actually lead to more accurate results and save energy and computing time, Rattner says.
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