There’s always physical limits to everything,” Steve Pawlowski, senior fellow and head honcho on exascale research, told The Register at the European Research and Innovation Conference in Ireland. “But you can always come up with clever ways… for example, there’s nothing that says I can’t take two dies and stack them on top of each other so I can grow Moore’s Law in the third dimension,” he added.
It’s not just a potentially clever way to push Moore’s Law, stacking chips is something Pawlowski is looking into right now as a way to get the world to high-powered computing (HPC).
Intel has set itself the target of getting computers to be 100 times more powerful than they are today by 2018 – in other words, to achieve the exaflop computing level.
One way Pawlowski thinks Intel can do this is by improving memory data transfer.
“The biggest part of memory is getting information out of memory into the processor, moving data around. So in certain situations we’re looking at can you make memory and processor closer together by stacking them on top of each other,” he said.
“The bottom line is you’re reducing the length a signal has to go from A and B and by doing that you can make it faster. By stacking on top of the CPU die you can make wider memory interface and with width and speed, you get higher bandwidth,” he added.
However, stacking them up that way has an unfortunate side-effect – the power needed to pull the memory out of the chip and into the processor has had the nasty habit of melting the die in lab experiments.
Whether it eventually works that way or not, stacking is the sort of idea Pawlawski reckons is needed to achieve exascale, not new materials.
It’s architecturally in how we build the devices that we need innovation,” he said. “Every time I hear this technology is going to run out of gas in ten years and we’re going to need something new, there’s always some new way of engineering or some new creative way to use the material that gives you a longer life.”
That’s why, even though he thinks new wonder material graphene is interesting, he doesn’t think it’s the way to go for future chips.
“I’m kind of interested in it for a number of reasons, but is it going to take over everything and be the new technology that’s going to drive us to exascale? I don’t believe it,” he said. “It’s my opinion, but I think silicon is still going to be the underlying technology that’s going to take us well into the next decade.”
Which is about how long Pawlowski will be drawn into forecasting that Moore’s Law will last, although he will say: “I’m of the belief that if you give an engineer a problem, they’ll solve it.” ®