Not to be upstaged by Microsofts WinHEC conference, Intel Corp. on Wednesday showed off some of its current research on advanced technology that will start finding its way into products over the next two to six years.
Leading the way were development projects for optical microprocessor interconnects to accelerate processing, wireless sensor networks and server-network I/O acceleration; and new wireless communication handsets for commercial and consumer applications.
Intel is investigating the feasibility of optical chip-to-chip connections because researchers estimate that over the next seven to 10 years, bus speed between microprocessors and chipsets will exceed 12 GHz, pushing the limits of the copper interconnections that have always been used in the industry.
Signal attenuation, distortions, reflections and crosstalk will limit the bandwidths that copper interconnections can handle on motherboard installations, researchers said.
Optical electronics will overcome this limit and allow interconnections to continue to scale up in speed and size. Intel researchers displayed a demonstration unit to show how a semiconductor laser array and a photodiode array, along with a CMOS transceiver chip and polymer optical waveguides, could be assembled on a standard chip-set package to support optical chip-to-chip communication.
Other research is seeking ways to speed up network server I/O at a time when Ethernet bandwidth is reaching 10 G-bits. Data packet handling has remained efficient because CPU speed, memory device speed and cache architecture have forestalled performance bottlenecks.
But the astronomical amount of TCP/IP data transmitted over the Internet—and the ever-expanding implementation of Web services, sensor networks and radio frequency identification (RFID)—means that sheer packet volume could soon start to degrade server and data-center performance.
Researchers at Intel are following five research paths to find ways to keep expanding packet throughput to avoid future I/O bottlenecks, said Thom Sawicki, senior manager of business development and network architecture at Intel.
These include direct cache access that seeks to reduce the number of system memory reads required to process each packet. Lightweight threading enables faster thread-switching to speed up throughput. Asynchronous, low-cost copy simplifies system memory copy to reduce the number of CPU cycles the process requires.
Protocol stack optimization is an effort by Intel researchers to improve the performance of the TCP/IP stack that is virtually unchanged since it was implemented in the early 1980s. They have used a number of design and optimization techniques to created an enhanced stack that reduces protocol processing cycles by nearly 50 percent.
The final technique is network stack affinity/partitioning, which seeks to improve data throughput by partitioning application processing from the operating-system workload.
Intel also demonstrated a universal communicator handset prototype that is designed to readily switch among heterogeneous wireless networking, including GSM/GPRS, 802.11b, GPS and Bluetooth.
It will allow users to switch to different networks to access voice, Internet and diverse wireless applications with the same handset, depending upon their need and their geographic location. The handsets will support WWAN-WLAN voice call roaming, streaming multimedia and cross-network GPS and WLAN location.
The research will eventually become part of Intels handheld chip and reference design offerings over the next several years.
Intel also demonstrated wireless sensor network ecosystems that can monitor and report the performance of mechanical and electronic devices for industrial applications. For example, Intel is proving the concept by developing wireless sensors that monitor equipment at its own chip fabrication facilities in Oregon.
The goal of the research is to find out whether the technology is effective enough to predict the impending failure of equipment, so it can be repaired before it causes downtime that cuts productivity and profits.
The system uses Intels iMote sensor network node in combination with machine monitoring technology from Rockwell Automation Inc., Wilcoxon Research Inc. and others.
Intel is also conducting research into various “ubiquitous computing” applications, such as ways to use existing camera phones as interactive devices that work with computing devices in the environment. Intels approach uses visual tags that can be decoded by camera phones to enable short-range communications between the phone and computers.