Brian Fuller's blog on the media, marketing and content creation

Ah IBM

Posted on | June 20, 2006 | No Comments

Somehow the Big Bluers manage to make silk purses out of sow’s ears when it comes to silicon announcements, at least within the national media. Sure publications like ours are wired into IBM, and they’re keenly interested in our coverage of new processors and especially bleeding-edge semiconductor processes. But when it comes to truly propeller-head technology announcements that get wide play, no one beats IBM. Not AMD. Not even Intel.

Case in point: IBM announced today a really fast processor that gets its speed by using liquid helium to cool the device to 451 degrees below zero.

On news.google, there are at least 85 stories on this announcement this morning. The San Francisco Chronicle’s business section played it on C3, using a David Ho dispatch from Cox News Service. It’s probably 350 words over two columns. That’s big play for a microprocessor story that’s really only in the research stage. Hell, conferences like ISSCC and IEDM rarely get that kind of national play. And this story is so geeky it’s being reported in the July issue of IEEE Electron Device Letters. It certainly plays to our audience as our story has garnered 22,000 hits in the first 10 hours since its posting. But Mr. and Mrs. America? How does that happen?

IBM had the same success years ago when it introduced copper into the interconnect scheme. Copper for years had been an iffy alternative to speeding up chips. But there it was, echoing through my bedroom at 5:30 one morning on the CBS Radio news. Copper interconnect was going to revolutionize computing. That was the IBM message.

It was as simple then as today’s with all the key messages and images: speed record. Cryogenic. Cool chip. Groovy technology.

Never mind that one of the few practical applications for this kind of hyper-cooled system—if it’s ever launched commercially–is on the moon. The researchers say the moon is great because this device could operate at the very cold ambient temperatures found there. That’s all well and good, but that’s not a high-volume market last time I checked.

IBM follows an old media game plan: keep it simple, make it cool. Everyone knows that strategy, everyone strives to follow it in their announcements, but then maybe not everyone has the IBM cachet.


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No Responses to “Ah IBM”

  1. Anonymous
    June 20th, 2006 @ 12:32 pm

    This kind of core, fundamental research–versus research done within set time limits and according to marketing’s directions–is critical to the future of US engineering. While it may have no practical application as of yet..beyond the moon…, the lessons learned and the techniques perfected through pushing boundaries are where the true benefits come. Of course, if it does also result in a cool press release, that’s just good marketing/PR. Hey, ya gotta grab the limelight when you can.

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