Behind The Curtain At Intel Research - InformationWeek
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10:21 AM

Behind The Curtain At Intel Research

The chip vendor rolls out research prototypes in chips, mobile computing, and tera-scale computing.

A prototype of the technology was demonstrated in a PCI Express card with a chip that consumed one-tenth the power of a card with today's chip technology, or 2.7 milliwatts versus 20 to 30 milliwatts. Reducing power consumption is critical, given that using today's technology to power a PCI Express card with a bandwidth of a terabit per second would require 100 watts of energy, Casper said.

Outside of supercomputing, Intel is also looking for greater energy efficiency in mobile devices in order to extend battery life. One area where it is looking to cut power consumption is in wireless communications.

Researchers showed a prototype of a Wi-Fi card with firmware that automatically turned off the power when the card was not in use. The technology also knew when to power up to receive or transmit data packets. Such cards use from 50% to 70% less power than standard wireless cards, researchers said.

Intel is also developing technology for server chipsets that would work in conjunction with products from power supply, storage and software management vendors. The server chipsets in conjunction with third-party technology would enable users to cap power use of individual servers, and also know the thermal output of servers so they could be disbursed to avoid "hot spots" that require additional cooling, Milan Milenkovic, principal engineer at Intel's Systems Technology Lab in Hillsboro, said.

Computing with smaller devices, called ultra-mobile PCs, is an area that Intel is betting heavily on. One way to shrink devices without compromising computing power is to consolidate components.

One area where that is being done by Intel is in the number of antennas needed to support multiple wireless standards. A device, for example, that supported Wi-Fi, WiMax, a 3G cellular network, and Bluetooth would require eight antennae, Ross Hodgin, technology marketing engineer, for Intel, said.

To consolidate as many antennae as possible into one, Intel is developing a switching device that would change the antenna's radio pattern depending on which wireless standard was needed. The technology would be made available to device manufacturers. "From the end user perspective, they get flexibility, a smaller form factor, and reduced cost," Hodgin said.

Another consolidation effort is in placing multiple wireless standards on one card, as opposed to having separate cards for each. To make that possible, Intel is developing technology called "media access control," which would ensure that the device isn't trying to transmit and receive multiple wireless standards at the same time, Mathys Walma, senior engineer at Intel's Hillsboro lab, said.

Intel is also looking to build wireless cards with components that are configurable, so the same components could be used to support multiple wireless standards, which would mean smaller cards.

One area of exploratory research that interests Intel is in "sensing and modeling everyday behavior in real-world environments," Beverly Harrison, senior research scientist, at Intel's Seattle lab, said. What that means is the ability of a computer to perform a task based on cues it receives from people, such as the waving of a hand, the nod of the head, or someday, even a facial expression.

Harrison demonstrated a pager-size device that could be hooked on a belt, and sense whether the wearer was bicycling, running, standing, using a Stairmaster exercise machine, or walking. In the demo, the device's choice was displayed on a screen in the form of percentages, since power walking, for example, could be considered half walking and half running.

The idea behind the research is to make computing as unobtrusive as possible in everyday life. "Maybe it's not quite invisible, but it's less observable," Harrison said.

Rattner told attendees that Intel has had nearly 1,000 researchers working in 15 locations worldwide for the last two years. During that time, the company has put in place a process called "path finding" that puts researchers and product development people together for as long a year and a half to find the best use for newly developed technology in products.

Before, the lack of communication between researchers and product developers was "a bridge too far," Rattner said. Today, there're about 350 people working on such projects, 60% product developers and 40% researchers. "They're beginning to view it as a key improvement," he said.

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