Intel Labs is a super interesting arm of the company, responsible for developing technologies that would potentially go into products 5 - 10 years down the road. It's from the labs that we got things like BBUL packaging (still not deployed but neat nonetheless) and the first 10GHz x86 ALUs

Today, on the day before IDF, Intel put together a collection of demos to give us insight into what the labs folks are working on. We're still an hour away from actual demos but Intel did share a super interesting slide, pictured above.

Moore's Law and the (almost) ever shrinking transistor give us one of two things: more complexity/performance/features in a given die area, or the same performance in a steadily decreasing die area.

Exploiting the latter benefit, we have the realization above. By 2020, which assuming a 2 year cadence between process nodes means we're talking about silicon built on a 5nm process, Intel expects that the size of "meaningful compute" approaches zero. It's not totally clear what Intel defines as meaningful compute, but if you keep in mind that a single AMD Jaguar core measures < 3mm^2 at 28nm, it's not a stretch to believe that we'd have quite a bit of compute available nearly for free at 5nm. Assuming perfect scaling (not going to happen), a 100mm^2 die at 22nm would measure only 6.25mm^2 at 5nm. Even if you don't get perfect scaling, Moore's Law can give us the performance we get in a smartphone today in a size that's small enough and cheap enough to make that we can integrate it anywhere (smart-tables anyone?).

The idea of ubiquitous compute has been around for quite a while, but it's still mindblowing to think about what can happen once meaningful compute is really almost free. Remember that there's a direct relationship between the size of silicon and its cost. Today's 80 - 120mm^2 smartphone SoCs cost anywhere from $10 - $30 to integrate into a phone. If silicon with that level of complexity can be reduced in size to the point where we're looking at low single digit costs, the potential impact to new markets will be huge.

We saw what affordable compute did for smartphones, the next question is what even more affordable compute can do for other, undiscovered markets. A while ago I heard someone smart tell me that at some point displays become cheap enough where many surfaces we take for granted, start integrating them (e.g. bathroom mirrors that double as displays). Combine that with cheap compute that we can integrate everywhere as well and we have a recipe for the future.



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  • Crazy1 - Tuesday, September 11, 2012 - link

    I think the point of this article should be that the need for computational power is becoming less important than form factor and interface.

    Some day soon, your couch will tell your friends and stalkers which cushion you're sitting on, and giant advertising firms will personalize ads for you based on your every move, facial expression, and the contents of your refrigerator.
  • crust3 - Tuesday, September 11, 2012 - link

    Limited transistor knowledge here.....when we say 28 nm node what exactly does it mean? Is it the channel length or is it something else? Reply
  • speculatrix - Tuesday, September 11, 2012 - link

    as someone suggested, until we can make displays very cheaply, i.e. printable, it doesn't really matter how densely packed we can make compute nodes.

    We need flexible (more roll-up than fold-up) displays initially, but in the long run I think that the HUD, recently promoted as Google Glasses, will promote ubiquitous wearable computing, because at the end of the day people can't spend 24x7 getting their smartphone/phablet/tablet out and staring at it to the exclusion of the outside world!

    Quality touchscreens have rewritten the book in terms of user input, now we need a better way for people to be fed images and video.
  • 3ogdy - Tuesday, September 11, 2012 - link

    After reading this post I was reminded of this video:

    We're getting there - we're closer with every single day that passes...and of course, it's gonna be awesome!

    Part 2:

    So I assume that they were talking about "Life with 5nm technology around you" in the video.

    Great News, Anand.
  • colonelciller - Tuesday, October 02, 2012 - link

    Maybe I don't understand what compute is, but my understanding is that the rendering process that goes from a 3D model in Maya, 3DS Max, Mudbox, Vue, etc... those renderings from the model to the final image after multiple passes = COMPUTE

    That would imply that the Server farms that are employed to render single frames will now be replaced by a single chip running on a smart-phone by 2012

    if this is what Intel is implying then I call BS, if not, then my mistake.
    Even if it were possible to render Avatar on a cell phone in 8 years (which I'd say is patently ludicrous) the demands of the compute crowd will always scale to push the processing powers beyond the breaking point.

    In short, "Meaningful Compute" will always be a meaningless phrase, and compute will always demand 100,000x more power from CPUs than are available in the current day on the most powerful single chip in existence.
  • colonelciller - Tuesday, October 02, 2012 - link

    *2020... not 2012 Reply
  • tjoynt - Monday, March 11, 2013 - link

    This is a all very cool and awesome, but we were talking about ubiquitous computing, "free" (zero) compute, and low-cost display walls in my Human/Computer Interface classes 15 years ago. :P It's great that there is a "real" time frame now, though. There are bigger problems than the cost of the silicon when it comes to truly ubiquitous computing devices, however. Yay, my cup has a microprocessor in it now. To do anything interesting it will also need sensors and probably a display and network connectivity. All of this integrated in a SoC? Cool, now we need some very clever software to actually do something useful and some very, very clever people to think of things that will justify my paying $5 for a "smart" cup rather than $.50 or $.05 for a dumb one. Reply

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