Intel Patents Cosmic Ray Detector, No Really

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Dave_HH Posted: Sat, Mar 8 2008 10:04 PM

Soft errors, they sound a little less ominous than hard errors, don't they?  Actually, both are not a lot of fun for the average computer processor or memory chip.  A soft error, relative to semiconductor technology, is corruption inside of the memory structure of a device where bits are flipped inadvertently. Soft errors have become much more of a concern than ever before, as chip technologies shrink smaller and smaller.  And the chip manufacturer with the most skin in the game right now is of course, Intel.  Bleeding-edge 45nm process technology allows for more powerful, complex chip designs but also brings with it, higher risk of soft errors due to, you guessed it, cosmic ray interference.  So what's ol' Chipzilla to do?  Why build a cosmic ray detector of course...

" Their patent suggests built-in cosmic ray detectors may be the best option. The detector would either spot cosmic ray hits on nearby circuits, or directly on the detector itself.  When triggered, it could activate error-checking circuits that refresh the nearby memory, repeat the most recent actions, or ask for the last message from outside circuits to be sent again."


And yes, that's a cosmic ray analyzer in the top corner thumbnail shot.  Intel's full patent, found here and awarded in December 07, is expected to manifest itself in a slightly smaller form factor however.    



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Huh?

This is all greek to me... interesting as it may be.

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replied on Sun, Mar 9 2008 5:36 AM

Well I understand some of it. I am guesing according to the article the smaller the silicon gets every year or so the more it can be effected by our atmosphere. Switching transisters from off to on or on to off creating errors, this chip in a sense will attempt to detect such errors and provide a form of Error correction/checking.  

 

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Dave_HH replied on Sun, Mar 9 2008 6:17 AM
Precisely Brian... Cosmic rays, like stray protons from space, hit the earth's atmosphere and can wreak havoc inside of computer chips. The smaller the chip geometry, the higher the chance it will affect a larger area of the chip, like the cache structure for example. It's sort of like on-board hard drive corruption but without the hard drive. If a chip's memory or cache gets corrupted, obviously you're computing with bad data. Not good... Intel and other manufacturers like AMD, NVIDIA etc, compensate for this currently by enabling their chips with end to end CRC checking, and other error detection/correction methods inside their memory structures but eventually, as chip designs continue to shrink, it's going to get harder to catch and manage those errors on the fly. I assume that's where a device like a cosmic ray detector comes in handy...

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warlord replied on Sun, Mar 9 2008 7:25 AM

 I wonder if this means companys may have already been on the verge or reaching the point of deminishing returns?  Usually companys only design stuff like this when it's already an issue.

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replied on Sun, Mar 9 2008 7:54 AM

When these become mainstream it will be fun to watch peoples expression when you tell them yeh my computer has a cosmic ray detector, its pretty leet.

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frg1 replied on Sun, Mar 9 2008 12:53 PM

i thought some bios had something like soft error detection or something in them to prevent this 

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methious replied on Sun, Mar 9 2008 12:54 PM

 You mean covering it with tin foil isn't going to stop the cosmic rays from interfering with my comuting experience.  Darn wasted a box of foil.

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AjayD replied on Sun, Mar 9 2008 8:04 PM
My grandma used to wear a tinfoil hat to block out evil rays. Since tinfoil didn't work for methious these must be rays of a different variety.

 

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frg1 replied on Tue, Mar 11 2008 12:22 PM

always worked for me 

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