Intel Details Digital Radios, Solar-Powered CPUs

Fully Digital Radio

Wireless radios, including those integrated into existing smartphones and laptops, are a mixture of digital and analog circuitry. Analog circuits are inherently harder to scale to match new process technologies and have tended to lag digital deployments. Until 2011, Intel's most advanced analog designs were built on 65nm. Digital radios that are typically available today look like this:

As you can see, the majority of the radio's circuitry is still built in analog, even in the second example. Intel wants to change that, and is demoing a 32nm digital radio, including a completely digital RF transmitter this year. "We are getting close to having the complete kit of digital RF building blocks for these radios,” says Justin Rattner, Intel’s chief technology officer. By moving to a completely digital implementation and treating radio like a compute problem, Intel can apply the same scaling laws and leverage its enormous expertise in manufacturing such products.

The bigger news is that the company has integrated a 2.4GHz WiFi radio on-die into an existing dual-core Atom design.

The chip, codenamed Rosepoint, isn't going to come to market in its current form, but it's a functional device. There are still some challenges to overcome, like the need to shield CPU and radio from interfering with each other without compromising the ability of either. Intel's goal, however, is to eventually move the entire radio, including the antenna, into a single unified SoC.

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