Intel Corp., the renowned chip pioneer, is taking an unexpected approach to tackle the growing demands of artificial intelligence (AI) workloads: glass. As processors become larger and more complex, their ability to communicate with the rest of the computer can become a bottleneck. Intel believes that glass-based substrates, which sit between the chip and connecting components, hold the key to overcoming this challenge.
In its pursuit to innovate for an AI-driven world and gain new customers, Intel has significantly increased its R&D spending to nearly $18 billion annually, surpassing its competitors in this regard. The company’s focus on glass stems from its packaging research and production facilities, which aim to raise their profile as part of a broader effort to attract customers to Intel’s manufacturing operations.
Unlike in the past when Intel’s factories primarily produced their own designs since its inception in the late 1960s, the chipmaker is now bolstering its foundry operations. This restructuring marks one of the most significant transformations in the company’s 55-year history. CEO Pat Gelsinger has been emphasizing Intel’s capabilities in packaging technology surrounding chips and making progress in attracting customers in that area, even if those buyers bring chips manufactured elsewhere.
The packaging business serves as a way for Intel to entice customers who can then utilize Intel for a wider range of their chip manufacturing needs. However, it is also considered a risky bet as Intel invests billions in new plants worldwide with hopes that outside customers will sustain them.
Gelsinger aims to restore Intel’s position as an agenda-setter within the $580 billion chip industry. With its glass packaging initiative, Intel strives to be at the forefront of commercializing technology that has been under academic research for years. The company predicts that existing techniques will lose steam by the second half of this decade, necessitating urgent development of new solutions.
Traditionally, a mix of fiberglass and epoxy has formed the substrate protecting silicon chips for the past two decades. This inexpensive material has become an industry standard. However, as chips incorporate tens of billions of transistors, driven by the demands of AI software, this packaging layer reveals its limitations. The need for a stronger force to grip small electronic components can lead to imperfect electrical contacts.
Glass emerges as Intel’s solution to these challenges. Unlike the current substrate, glass does not deform and allows for finer cutting paths for data transmission. Moreover, its chemical properties align with silicon, enabling expansion and contraction at the same rate under high temperatures.
Nevertheless, there are hurdles to overcome before widespread adoption of this approach. Intel must secure a cheaper supply of glass and refine handling techniques to mitigate its inherent fragility.
To support their glass-based packaging initiative, Intel has approximately 4,200 employees dedicated to developing packaging techniques and other improvements at their site in Chandler, Arizona HT Tech.
The end, Intel’s focus on utilizing glass as a vital material in AI advancements showcases its commitment to innovation and attracting new customers. By addressing the limitations of existing packaging technology through glass substrates, Intel aims to revolutionize chip manufacturing and solidify its position as an industry leader in the race towards powering artificial intelligence.