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Intel's AI advances silicon tech, says lead engineer Brennan
Tue, 19th Mar 2024

Bob Brennan, the lead customer solutions engineer for Intel Foundry, underlined the crucial role of artificial intelligence (AI) in advancing silicon technology in a recent discussion. Brennan emphasised on how AI is "pushing the boundaries of silicon technology, packaging technology, the construction of silicon, and the construction of racks and data centres."

"There is an insatiable demand," Brennan acknowledged, adding that his role is centred on catering to this growing demand. He is responsible for leading customer solutions at Intel Foundry, which endeavours to facilitate the world’s fabless chipmakers in manufacturing and assembling their chips through Intel's factories.

Expressing the company's mission, he said, "We are engaged from architecture to high-volume manufacturing—soup to nuts—and we present the customer with a complete solution." Intel Foundry's services extend beyond simply wafer fabrication, unlike others in the industry. They assist with testing, firmware—the software that enables the hardware to function—and ironing out intricacies in the global semiconductor supply chain.

This broad range of services proposed by Intel Foundry proves pivotal as "there are a lot of new entrants in the AI market," according to Brennan. He elaborated on the company's strategy stating, "We fill in all the other pieces at Intel in a way that cannot be matched by any other foundry in the world."

Intel follows a holistic approach to assist Intel Foundry customers in designing, testing, and manufacturing chips, coupled with a profound recipe for constructing and connecting AI processors that push the frontier. The concept of a systems foundry is aimed at utilising "the best of Intel—core competencies, the architectural knowledge, the design knowledge... and applying that to the (customer’s) design.” Brennan believes this, combined with "the best of the ecosystem, together leads to customer solutions."

Sharing an exemplary illustration, Brennan spoke about the future Intel Xeon processor codenamed Clearwater Forest, slated for debut in 2025. Clearwater Forest is a high-performance multilayer chip that combines sets of compute chiplets crafted with Intel 18A technology. The individual sets are connected to each other and to a separate I/O die using cutting-edge packaging technology, thereby creating an efficient design optimising power, area, and cost.

These elements, according to Brennan, "create a solution which is very compelling for AI.” To cater to today’s AI applications, Intel goes a step further by providing full system chips, including interconnect and networking solutions for “connected elements of AI computation.” This essentially means a complete solution extending up to racks and data centres.

The conversation around Intel's capabilities and technology has witnessed a significant shift, says Brennan, moving from scepticism to interest. This change is attributed to the hefty investment pumped into new factories, Intel's adoption of several industry-best methods and standards, the establishment of what Brennan refers to as "an outrageous service organisation," and the awareness that "Intel 18A is a very competitive technology in the world."

The secret ingredient to managing such complex projects, Brennan shares, is "the engineering manager spidey sense." This refers to an intuitive understanding of project trajectories and potential problem areas. Brennan concluded by highlighting the fast-paced nature of technology and innovation, stating, "There are only a handful of companies in the world that have the scope and scale to make a difference in the world... We’re at the beginning of an inflection point and it’s very exciting to be at the forefront.”