Intel’s Innovation event starts tomorrow, and to kick things off, Chipzilla is revealing more information about its work with glass substrates. It sees this technology as the best future alternative to currently used organic materials. The company first discussed its work on this next-generation technology in May, and now it’s pulling the curtain back slightly further. This technology is still many years away from becoming reality, so a lot can and will change before it arrives.
The special briefing with the press revealed more details about using glass instead of organic material for a chip’s substrate. The high-level reason is that glass is a more stable material than what we’re using currently, so it will allow the company to scale its chiplet designs much higher than what would otherwise be possible. This will allow for a lot more silicon tiles on a package, allowing Moore’s Law to continue far into the future.
The ability to pack more chips onto a glass substrate will be necessary to create data center and AI chips requiring advanced packaging, Intel said. Once the process matures and costs decrease, it will also be used for client devices. However, given the timelines involved here, we don’t see that happening for at least another decade, if not longer.
A working prototype chip with glass substrate.
Intel isn’t saying what kind of glass it’s using—only that it’s cranking them out in panels at its Chandler, Arizona fab. It says using glass will bring gains in both performance and density, allowing chip designers a lot more flexibility when creating complex chips in the future.
For example, the stability of glass allows for up to a 10x increase in routing and signaling wires, allowing wires to be smaller and closer together, which will let Intel reduce the number of metal layers involved. More signaling allows more chiplets to be stacked onto the package, and the glass’s thermal stability will allow more power to go to the chip(lets) instead of getting lost in the interconnects.
A rack of glass substrates test units at its Chandler, AZ facility.
Intel says glass is also extremely flat compared with current organic substrate materials. Combined with how it’s a homogenous slab as opposed to a composite made up of different materials, the design makes it less prone to warping or shrinking over time. It’s also more stable through thermal cycles. Intel says this type of predictability, along with the ability to connect many more chips on a package, will be the future of extra-large data center and AI chips.
The ball grid array side of a glass substrate test unit at Intel’s Assembly and Test Technology Development center.
Intel says it’s making these substrate samples in panels, not wafers, and they measure 510mm square, or roughly 20 inches. It says it currently has them up and running to test reliability and functionality and has ample capacity to continue R&D work on them for years to come.
Regarding the existing organic substrates, Intel says it’ll complement them instead of replacing them and that the two will eventually be side-by-side in the marketplace. Intel says it began exploring this technology 10 years ago and hopes to begin deploying glass substrates “by the end of the decade.” This is quite the project for the company, as it seems to be betting its entire data center future on it.