Stephen Shankland, a reporter for CNET, says he was one of only two journalists who got a first look at how Intel’s glass substrate works. He writes: “The A17 Pro processor in Apple’s iPhone 15 Pro has 19 billion transistors. Intel’s Ponte Vecchio supercomputer processor has more than 100 billion.” Intel expects to house up to 30 trillion transistors on a glass substrate by the end of the decade, along with other innovations such as 3D stacking of chips, Rahul Manepalli, director of substrate module engineering at Intel, said in a news conference.
With glass, Intel can create 50 percent more chip area in a package, allowing more chips to fit into a single package. “It allows us to do things that an organic package can’t do. It allows us to improve the power supply for these power-hungry, AI and data-centric chips. It allows us to do high-speed I/O signaling that organic packages can’t is possible, especially when you get to these switches with very high frequency and very low losses,” Manepalli continues and also speaks of high production yields and low costs. The glass substrates are another option for faster and better connectivity alongside other improvements such as 3D packaging.
Intel has relied on this chiplet approach to catch up to rivals with superior processor manufacturing capabilities. But now Intel can use it to overtake its rivals at a time when exploding demand for new computing power is outpacing the industry’s ability to deliver it, according to Creative Strategies analyst Ben Bajarin.
Today’s chips are located on substrates that connect them to a larger circuit board, i.e. the mainboard. Usually copper compounds are used for this. But Intel found a way to do this faster with glass. For this purpose, Intel has equipped a production line in its factory in Chandler, Arizona, USA, with investments worth billions in order to advance glass processing.
Advantages of glass over silicon: stability and connection density
Compared to traditional organic substrates, glass substrates offer a variety of advantages, including extremely low flatness, improved thermal and mechanical stability, and significantly higher interconnect density. These unique properties make it possible to develop chip packages specifically designed for data-intensive workloads such as artificial intelligence (AI).
Intel plans to bring the first chips with glass substrates to market in the second half of this decade.