Intel to unveil new way to connect chips

Chipmaker plans to reveal a new way of opening up the data paths between processors, CNET News.com has learned.

SAN FRANCISCO--Intel on Thursday will unveil a way to open the data paths between chips, a move that could help overcome a huge hurdle in increasing processor performance, CNET News.com has learned.

Called through-silicon vias, or TSV, the technique involves stacking chips vertically in a package and then creating connections between the bottom of the top chip and the top of the bottom chip. These wires will greatly expand the means to exchange data between chips, sources said.

In 2001, Intel Capital, the chipmaker's venture arm, invested in a company that has a TSV application. Semiconductor processing specialist Tru-Si Technologies, based in Sunnyvale, Calif., demonstrates how the technology works on its Web site.

Justin Rattner, a senior fellow at Intel who helps set the company's technology agenda, will discuss TSV in a speech on Thursday at the Intel Developer Forum.

Fast chips, and now dual- and multicore chips, have in turn created a problem around getting data to and from the different pieces of silicon inside a PC.

Several companies are proposing solutions to the problem. Sun Microsystems, for instance, is promoting proximity communications. In this technique, overlapping chips communicate with special patches separated by a thin air gap.

Intel is also working on ways to allow faster communication between the cores in its dual-core chips, said Steve Smith, vice president in the company's Digital Enterprise Group.

"You have to support that processor with the memory bandwidth and I/O (input-output) bandwidth," Smith said.

Coming up with new chip interconnects, however, is never easy. TSV, for example, requires that the chips in the stack are the same size.

Pat Gelsinger, one of two leaders of Intel's digital enterprise group and the chipmaker's former chief technology officer, said Intel is researching proximity communication technology but doesn't see an immediate need. Copper wire connections can transfer data at 2.5 gigabits per second today and will be able to do four times that without any exotic technology, Gelsinger said.

"For broad-scale deployment in sever platforms, I just don't see (proximity communication) happening," Gelsinger said. A fourfold bandwidth increase is "good for well past 2010."

Another input/output (I/O) technology is due to arrive in the nearer term. I/O Acceleration Technology (I/OAT) is expected in dual-processor Intel servers in 2006.

I/OAT dovetails with Intel's new "platformization" strategy--the unification of design teams for processors and the chipsets that link those processors to the rest of a computer. To work, I/OAT requires the full Intel platform, not just the processor, Gelsinger said. That means that server sellers will need to buy the full Intel platform if they want to offer the feature.

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