An Engineer’s Playground – Intel Labs

Our first stop at Intel was at their Labs.  The Intel Labs are quite possibly the most interesting arm of Intel as they have no PR or Marketing group and they aren’t product driven.  The group is entirely technology driven meaning that their very talented engineers go to work every morning to test theories and ideas.  Eventually these theories and ideas may make their way into products but this group isn’t concerned with selling more Pentium 4s, they are focused on pushing the limits of technology. 

At Fall IDF 2001 we mentioned a 5GHz, 32-bit ALU that Intel was demonstrating.  That accomplishment came courtesy of the Intel Labs. 

Much more than simply performance tuning comes out of these research labs however, there are actually five main focus areas for this group:

1) Performance – This area is pretty much straightforward, the group is constantly looking for ways to increase clock speed and perform computations more efficiently.  They also look at application usage trends and algorithms in order to help decide how the next-generation of microprocessors should work and how to optimize them for the types of loads and application usage that the end-users are actually encountering.

2) Power – The biggest challenge going forward in microprocessor design is combating the issue of power consumption and heat dissipation.  It turns out that power and performance end up going hand in hand meaning that as one problem is tackled, improvements in the other are usually opened up. 

3) Integrity – Having reliable processors is something we almost always take for granted, but reliability is a very difficult thing to ensure especially when you’re dealing with hundreds of millions of transistors packed extremely tightly into a space the size of a dime.  Research into making more reliable circuits under various conditions is also a duty of these labs.

4) Functionality – We mentioned earlier that much research time is devoted to studying application behavior, a major part of the results of those studies is incorporated into execution units that make their way into future CPUs or even lower-level improvements that deal with moving data around internally, optimizing data paths for certain types of transfers, etc…  Technologies such as MMX, SSE, SSE2 and HyperThreading were the results of this type of research from within the labs.  A number of other technologies that were never given marketing names were also the results of their efforts in the labs but those are even more improvements that are generally taken for granted.

5) Tools & Methods – The final focus of the group is on developing things like simulation tools that better help in the other four areas we just mentioned. 

Now that you understand a bit of what the Intel Labs are about, it’s time to talk about some of the things they’re working on right now. 

Index A Menu of Technologies

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