Can the Atom help Intel's CEO meet otherworldly demands?
Otellini bullish on MIDs, bearish on Affymetrics
Jumping past Intel's near-term agenda and well into the future, I wondered how the company might apply its nanotechnology expertise to areas outside of the traditional semiconductor field. Companies such as Applied Materials have re-tooled semiconductor manufacturing equipment to pump out silicon-based solar cells, and a number of start-ups have issued specialized processors that can crank through tasks such as protein folding at remarkable speeds. Perhaps Intel would like to have a go at something along these lines.
"We have looked at both of those markets," Otellini said.
"There is no commonality between our factories and the factories that you would need to run to build solar cells. The equipment is different, the factory flow is different, the clean-room levels are much less necessary. And, for solar factories, you need these big, long almost football field kinds of buildings with a linear process control. So, there is not a lot of re-use of, say, our old factories or old equipment.
"So, you would have to enter it as a standalone business, and that doesn't seem to be attractive to us right now in terms of where our capital can be used.
"It's a similar story on stuff like the Affymetrics products. As we investigated the various aspects around digital health, we looked at those kinds of things. We're really good at digital logic, and I think that is where we want to keep our focus."
So, if we're to think about Intel as a nanotechnology company, we should stick close to how the nano concepts relate to semiconductors and not much beyond that?
"Well, we have deep research in terms of what happens at these ultra-small dimensions, and we are working with carbon nanotubes and those kinds of things. But that is all multiple generations out.
"We've got a line of sight for four more generations of silicon scaling. That's eight or nine more years. That is about as far out as we have things that are typically moving towards production."
I thought Otellini might bite a bit more on these nanotechnology questions. The company loves to deal in high volumes and Affymetrics gear obviously does not offer such volume opportunities yet, but the solar cells at least have moved in the mass production direction.
But no such luck.
The executive, however, did prove more than willing to dig into the state of semiconductor manufacturing as the industry navigates through 45nm and onto 32nm.