Intel Provides Royalty-Free License to US Government: Sandia Labs to Develop Radiation-Hardened Pentium® Processor for Space & Defense Needs

December 08, 1998

Albuquerque, N.M. -- Intel Corp. and the Department of Energy (DOE) announced today (Dec. 8) that Intel will provide a royalty-free license for its Pentium® processor design to DOE's Sandia National Laboratories for the development of custom made microprocessors for US space and defense purposes. The agreement saves US taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars in microprocessor design costs and provides the federal government with a 10-fold increase in processing power over the highest performing existing technology.

In a ceremony attended today at Intel's Santa Clara, Calif., headquarters by Secretary of Energy Bill Richardson, NASA Administrator Daniel Goldin and others, Intel said it would license the design to Sandia, DOE's lead lab for microelectronics research and development. Sandia will develop a custom, radiation-hardened version of the Pentium processor for use in satellites, space vehicles, and defense systems. Radiation hardening is required to "immunize" systems and applications from radiation, such as cosmic rays, which affect the reliability of conventional electronics.

"The Pentium processor design will offer tremendous performance, flexibility, and reliability for critical government applications," said Craig Barrett, Intel President and chief executive officer. "This agreement allows the government to apply the vast research and development activity that Intel has undertaken for the commercial market to its mission-critical needs."

Secretary of Energy Bill Richardson heralded the agreement as a model of industry and government cooperation. "We're proud to be a part of this unique opportunity to partner with Intel to significantly advance the state of the art in space and defense electronics," Richardson said. "This is a precedent-setting show of cooperation, in which the taxpayers are among the biggest winners."

Sen. Pete Domenici (R-N.M.) said Sandia and Intel both deserve congratulations for developing this latest partnership. "Intel deserves special thanks for allowing the government to benefit from their extensive development work on the Pentium processor," Domenici said. "Intel's generosity provides the government with important new capabilities and saves it many millions of dollars. This partnership highlights the tremendous benefits that accrue to the taxpayers, as well as to private industry, when partnerships are used to leverage the resources of each party."

"The five generations of chips that Sandia has hardened have been essential elements in earth satellites, the Galileo mission, missiles, nuclear weapons, and in other applications where radiation degrades both the performance and reliability of conventional electronics," said Sandia Executive Vice President John Crawford. "DOE and Sandia are proud to be partnering with Intel, NASA, the Air Force Research Lab, and the National Reconnaissance Office to produce a rad-hard version of the Pentium. If we had to pay to license the Pentium technology, government costs would go up considerably."

The Pentium processor is one of the most popular computer chips in the world. Developed by Intel at an estimated cost of more than $1 billion, it can run more software -- including applications, development tools, and diagnostic tools -- than any other chip ever designed.

Intel cofounder Gordon Moore, who also participated in today's announcement, was instrumental in advancing the current agreement and directed the transfer of the first Intel microprocessor designs to Sandia more than 18 years ago.

In recent years, the rapid pace of design innovation for commercial integrated circuit (IC) applications, such as personal computers, has outdistanced the budgetary ability of military and space designers to design comparable performance ICs for radiation environments.

The licensing agreement highlights a long-standing relationship between Intel and Sandia in the development of advanced technologies. Intel provided similar rights to Sandia in the 1980s for the Intel 8085 and 8051 microcontrollers. Intel also built the world's first teraflop (one-trillion-operations-per-second) computer -- the fastest in the world at the time -- for Sandia under government contract in 1995. The supercomputer was based on 9,200 Intel Pentium Pro processors. There have been numerous other cooperative R&D projects over the years.

Among the national laboratories, only Sandia has both the design and the microelectronics fabrication infrastructure to attempt a project as complex as redesigning and manufacturing a Pentium-class chip with radiation-hardened characteristics. Sandia combines a detailed understanding of the art and science of manufacturing radiation-hardened chips with a working knowledge of the modern microelectronics industry obtained through numerous partnerships with leading-edge US microelectronics companies.

The Pentium processor redesign effort will involve several government agencies that are expected to use the increased computing power for a variety of applications. DOE, NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL), and the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) are the initial agencies with projects identified. Some of the applications will include earth satellites, space probes, missile defense, and other advanced military systems.

Prototypes of the custom chips will be fabricated and tested at Sandia's Microelectronics Development Lab in Albuquerque, N.M. For larger quantities, Sandia will seek the participation of specialty commercial suppliers that traditionally serve the rad-hard IC needs of defense and space-related markets. Manufacturing will occur only in the US, and the products will be subject to strict export controls.

Intel, the world's largest chipmaker, is also a leading manufacturer of personal computer, networking, and communications products.

Sandia is a multiprogram DOE laboratory, operated by a subsidiary of Lockheed Martin Corp. With main facilities in Albuquerque, N.M., and Livermore, Calif., Sandia has major R&D responsibilities in national security, energy, and environmental technologies.

DOE/Sandia National Laboratories

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