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Innovation Blog

Can Intel Innovate?   Toward 3D Chips

By Shlomo Maital

Celebrating My 500th Blog!

 

 

 Intel 3D Transistor

 

 Can Intel innovate? Of course they can – they develop new microprocessors and chipsets every year.

  But again – can they really innovate?

  On a visit to an Intel building here in Haifa, I once chose to take the stairs instead of the elevator.  In the staircase was a prominent sign:  Hold On to the Handrail!  And I thought – how in the world can an organization foster innovation and risk-taking, when it cautions its workers to hold on to the handrail?  In innovation, there are no handrails – only chasms. 

   According to PCMag.com,

  “Intel will begin high-volume manufacturing of chips featuring the world’s first three-dimensional transistor, the company said Wednesday.   “The gains these transistors provide are really unprecedented,” said Bill Holt, senior vice president and general manager of Intel’s technology Manufacturing Group at a press conference in San Francisco.   Intel will introduce its 3D transistor design, called Tri-Gate, as it transitions to its next-generation, 22-nanometer silicon manufacturing process at the end of this year and through 2012, Holt said. Tri-Gate transistors will be used in all of Intel’s product lines, from high-end server chips to the tiny, low-power processors that go into mobile devices like smartphones and tablets, including the Atom embedded processor. The 3D transistor will be a standard part of Intel’s 22-nm process, and its factories will be upgraded to support the new technology, executives said. “

    What does all this mean in simple language?  According to Intel Architecture Group Senior VP David (Dadi) Perlmutter,  with the new 3D technology,  the electrons go “up, left, and down.”  Previously, they just went left or right.   According to PCmag.com, “Perlmutter said that the improved transistor will result in improved processor performance, although he declined to say whether clock frequency would be increased as a consequence. Users should also expect Intel’s notebook chips to run at even lower power consumption at the same clock speed, potentially extending battery life further.”

   Perlmutter has led two previous Intel revolutions.  He and two friends, as relatively junior Intel engineers in Israel, persuaded Andy Grove to reverse a key decision and instead of going with RISC technology, remain with SISC and develop the Pentium, continuing backward compatibility with previous Intel microprocessors. Later, Pentium led development of the Centrino chipset, which reversed a cherished Intel business design by giving up some power for longer battery life and cooler chips (“Unwire your world”).  Now, Perlmutter seems to be taking Intel toward 3D technology, trying to regain lost ground in the smartphone market in particular. 

    Can Intel innovate?  Let’s watch carefully whether the 3D adventure yields bottom-line results. 

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Innovation Blog

Putting Capitalism Into Orbit: Can Private Enterprise Put Americans Back Into Space?

By Shlomo Maital

   Falcon 1 Rocket (SpaceX)

A decision by President Barack Obama, desperately strapped for cash, has ended the NASA space shuttle program.  The flight of Discovery this month , and a last flight in June, will mark the last time Americans will go into orbit in an American space vehicle. From now on, Americans will reach the ISS (International Space Station) on Russian Soyuz rockets.  Last month, the U.S. House and Senate  approved a spending plan for the remainder of the 2011 fiscal year that cuts NASA’s total budget by $241 million from 2010 levels, to $18.48 billion.  Meanwhile, America continues to build costly aircraft carriers, at $6 b. a pop.  Why does America need more aircraft carriers?  Is this truly a good use of America’s now-scarce resources?   Are Americans pleased that they need Russian help to get their astronauts onto the Space Station?

   The theory is that the gap will be filled by private enterprise and innovation, driven by the profit motive.  But it is an open question whether space can truly be profitable, in the near term.  Many believe space is a public good – one governments must provide, because the spillover benefits, hard to capture by private capital, are very large. 

    One of the most interesting private initiatives is that of Elon Musk, PayPal entrepreneur, who is using his billions earned from PayPal (on-line payment by credit card) to launch SpaceX, a startup that is building space rockets.  The launch of Falcon 1 last year was a big success, and showed Musk’s ability to put half a ton into space orbit.  Eventually, Falcon 9 will be ready, and it will be capable of putting 25 tons into orbit!  The key, it turns out, is saving weight.  This is done by using carbon composite material, a kind of papier mache process that provides more than the strength of steel or aluminum with a fraction of the weight.    

    Meanwhile, Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic is testing a vehicle aimed at putting people into space (not into orbit).  It launches from a plane, at 45,000 feet, thus solving the high-risk stage of ground-based rocket launch.  Already, some 400 people (including Elon Musk) have signed up for a ride into space, at $200,000 per person.  Some have paid in advance, to ensure a ride on one of the earliest rockets. 

      Will private enterprise, capitalism and entrepreneurship keep America in space?  Time will tell.  Space is an expensive technology.  The question is, can governments who want their nation to remain a technology leader afford not to invest in it? 

Blog entries written by Prof. Shlomo Maital

Shlomo Maital
May 2011
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