In anticipation of Intel's 40th anniversary, senior vice president and co-general manager of its Digital Enterprise Group, Pat Gelsinger, has taken the time to offer us his thoughts on Intel's future.
Not surprisingly, Gelsinger promised a new age of computing with Intel chips everywhere, from large-scale PCs to the smallest of mobile handsets. Speaking to media, he offered the following four predictions for the years to come:
- Intel can clearly see 10nm chips
Referring to Intel co-founder Gordon Moore's well-known law, which states that the number of transistors on an integrated circuit doubles roughly every two years, Gelsinger states that "we (Intel) thought 1 micron was gonna be hard, then we thought 100nm was gonna be hard, now we fairly casually talk about getting to 10nm."
Gelsinger believes Moore's Law gives Intel a "10 year visibility into the future", and within that time frame, Intel can see 32nm, 24nm, 15nm and 10nm chips.
Moving on, Gelsinger then predicted the rapid decline of companies that build fabs. The cause, says Gelsinger, is the move from 300mm silicon wafers to 450mm. He states that Intel, Samsung and the Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company have announced a 2012 effort for the 450mm transition. "With that you'll continue to see the restructuring and consolidation of the semiconductor industry just because of the capital considerations required to build at that scale," he adds.
Gelsinger predicts that any company unable to invest $1 billion into the use of 450mm wafers will be unable to keep up.
- Many-core age of computing
"We began to look for new ways to deliver performance that led us to create many-core computing, now we have two and four cores, and later this year six cores on a single die. This has resulted in some of the most spectacular games and performance, if, programmers could take advantage of parallelism. However, that question, that if, of taking advantage of parallelism is a very big one," says Gelsinger.
As expected, Gelsinger states that Intel isn't "looking at products with single-digit cores...we're looking at products with tens of cores". Those cores, he adds, will result in a new generation of user interfaces.
As Windows once ushered in a new period of UI, Gelsinger expects multi-core tera-flop computing to "usher in a new generation of user interfaces...interactive, immersive and intuitive". Speech recognition that instantly works, perhaps?
- x86 everywhere!
Intel's CPUs dominate the desktop, and Gelsinger predicts that dominance will spread across all platforms. Its x86 architecture, sometimes referred to as Intel Architecture, is key, says Gelsinger. Intel plans to scale its chips down to milliwatts, bringing its x86 compatibility to devices ranging from mobile handsets to large scale data centres.
Despite Gelsinger's predictions, dominance in the handheld space might not come easy. Intel's latest low-power chip, Atom, still draws too much power for use in devices such as mobile phones and many handsets continue to use energy-efficient chips from ARM.
Nonetheless, Gelsinger states that software compatibility with x86 will be the turning point when Intel presents chips targeted at the mobile phone.
- Always on, 24/7
Last but not least, Gelsinger predicts a world where every individual on earth has computing connectivity 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Intel's chips will become ubiquitous, he states. They'll be found in cars, medical devices, and consumers will eventually become unaware of the computer interaction.
Gelsinger clearly wasn't lacking in predictions, and also took the time to delicately predict the failure of GPGPUs (General Purpose Graphics Processing Units) from the likes of AMD and NVIDIA.
When asked about GPGPU languages such as NVIDIA's CUDA, Gelsinger described it as "a cool new idea that promises 10-20x performance but you have to go through this little orifice called a new programming model".
That, says Gelsinger, will see various GPGPU solutions become footnotes in the history of computing annals, whilst Intel's x86-based Larrabee will prevail.
You'd almost begin to think he works for Intel, but hey, are these predictions really that far-fetched? Maybe, maybe not.