Intel Corporation, a leading chip manufacturer, is betting on an unconventional material to revolutionize AI computing: glass. The company’s researchers believe that as processors become larger and more complex, their ability to communicate with the rest of the computer will become a bottleneck. Glass-based substrates, which sit between the chip and connecting components, could provide the solution to this challenge.
Intel’s push towards glass technology stems from its packaging research and production facilities, a relatively unknown aspect of its technology lineup. The company aims to raise the profile of this business and attract customers to its manufacturing operations. In recent years, Intel has been increasing its R&D spending, which now amounts to nearly $18 billion annually, surpassing its peers.
This move is part of Intel’s broader strategy to compete with Nvidia Corp. in the AI space and demonstrate its ability to innovate in an AI-driven world. The chipmaker has been emphasizing its capabilities in packaging technology, and its efforts are paying off as it secures customers in this area, even if those customers bring chips from other manufacturers.
Intel’s packaging business serves as a way to entice clients who may then utilize the company’s services for a wider range of chipmaking needs. This strategic bet comes with high stakes as Intel invests billions of dollars in new plants worldwide, anticipating that external customers will help sustain their operations.
Intel aims to be the first to commercialize glass packaging technology, which has been under academic research for several years. The company predicts that existing methods will reach their limits in the latter half of this decade, necessitating the development of new solutions.
Traditional substrate materials, composed of a mixture of fiberglass and epoxy, are inadequate for the demands of modern chips. As chips incorporate billions of transistors, the packaging layer made of fiberglass and epoxy poses limitations. These limitations include the need for extensive clamping force to ensure electrical connectivity, susceptibility to warping and loss of contact, and restricted scalability of power and data pathways.
Intel believes that glass can address these challenges. Unlike fiberglass and epoxy, glass does not warp and allows for more finely cut data pathways. Its chemical properties align with silicon, enabling it to expand and contract at the same rate in high temperatures.
However, there are several obstacles to overcome before glass packaging becomes mainstream. Intel needs to secure a more affordable supply of glass material, and researchers must refine handling techniques to mitigate its tendency to shatter.
Intel is dedicating approximately 4,200 employees to packaging techniques and other enhancements at its Chandler, Arizona site.
In summary, Intel’s bet on glass as a solution for AI computing challenges showcases the company’s commitment to innovation. By leveraging glass-based substrates in their packaging technology, Intel aims to address the limitations of current methods. This strategic move is part of Intel’s broader efforts to compete in the AI industry, attract new customers, and position itself as an industry leader.