Better PCs, Faster: How Intel Re-Imagined Silicon Validation

By Venkat Dubhakula, Manager, Intel Validation Engineering

Intel's Industry Leading Pre-Silicon Validation Platform

  • Intel’s Pre-Silicon (Pre-Si) validation platform offerings help OEMs and IBVs (Independent BIOS Vendors) catch more bugs, speed up development timelines, reduce costs, and ultimately deliver better PC experiences, faster.

  • Engineers across the industry have been using Intel’s Pre-Si platform to virtually boot into Intel’s latest architecture to test their firmware and software stacks, months before ever receiving silicon.

  • Developers can validate and develop software for Intel’s future platforms with these Pre-Si models, via a secure, turnkey cloud solution.

  • Intel has been a role model for decades when it comes to bold ideas—like silicon validation without silicon—by challenging long-standing assumptions and prioritizing our partners’ needs.



Pre-Silicon Validation: Faster, Cheaper, More Effective

The industry will never test computers the same way again. With Intel’s new Pre-Silicon (Pre-Si), hardware-representative validation platform, our OEM and IBV (Independent BIOS Vendors) partners can now boot into new silicon architectures and begin testing months earlier than previously possible.

Pre-Silicon validation allows for earlier identification of bugs further upstream, reduces development times and enables more developers to access the latest simulated silicon. This “shift left” ultimately saves our customers both time in the product life cycle and money for physical test platforms.

“We took an entire ‘system’ approach, helping our partners configure not just their software stack, but also their platform configurations and proprietary hardware.” - Jatin Upadhyay, Director, Pre-Si Systems – Data Center and Customer Enabling

After years of developing and refining Pre-Si technology, we are deploying our learnings globally. Engineers at our partners are now empowered to use our Pre-Si testing and de-bug environment, without ever stepping foot in a physical office or lab. Developers can validate and develop software for Intel’s future platforms with these Pre-Si models, via a secure, turnkey cloud solution.

This is a turning point for our industry, changing the way Intel enables our partners to be ready in the market as we launch our newest client IA platforms.

Testing Silicon—Without the Silicon

This Pre-Si validation platform started as a bold idea. Why not take the silicon out of silicon validation?

“Adding Pre-Silicon capabilities to our enablement playbook helps our customers develop system firmware earlier, with more features ready at power-on, so they can get CPUs into laptops, and laptops onto shelves, faster.” - David Silva, Manager, Client Customer Enabling – Windows Platform Debug

In the past, the post-silicon validation process could be costly and time-consuming. Intel shipped our partners validated silicon, waited weeks for first boot, and then waited another few weeks until they were able to start volume validation. This physical approach could lead to delays, high shipping costs, and late identification of bugs.

We set out to find a better way. We imagined ourselves as the very partners we work with to enable their PC designs into the market. What were their frustrations? How could we build confidence and shorten PC development times? We asked for feedback, listened, and embraced an open mindset.

Then our team agreed on a fearless approach. We would emulate Intel’s silicon architecture with a Pre-Si test platform and enable our partners with it. This kind of validation tool had been used internally and in other sectors, but it had never been applied to CPU testing at scale. We set out to be the first.

Achieving Global Scale

Over the last few years, we developed this concept and have been refining the platform to make it widely available. Then when COVID-19 hit last year, we had the opportunity to scale. This allowed us to leverage our remote capabilities with the pre-silicon simulation for our partners to continue to execute without delay.

“The implementation of Embedded Controller Pre-Si hybrid architecture removed a roadblock for our partners, shifting OEM execution to the left by months. This is a clear competitive advantage for us to scale more IA designs with high quality.” - Sam Gao, VP and GM – CCG Client Platform Engineering

Our investment has paid off. Many of our partners have found proven benefits:

  • Making validation virtual, secure, and instant. We offer instant access to Pre-Si, hardware-representative system reference designs through a high security, Intel-managed, cloud-based portal, where our partners can develop, several months before the actual silicon is available.
  • Catching more bugs, earlier. Bugs used to be caught in post-silicon, but many can now be caught in pre-silicon and fixed faster, further upstream, helping our partners more quickly develop their software stack, get CPUs into laptops, and laptops onto shelves.
  • Shortening timelines and saving millions. The platform can reduce turnaround times. Last year, one partner was able to boot the 11th Gen Intel Core architecture in just a few hours, rather than a few weeks.
  • Enabling a better real-world experience. By catching more bugs and speeding development, the platform allows people to access the newest PC innovations faster than ever, with greater confidence.

It’s been incredible to see OEM/IBVs adopt Pre-Si infrastructure so quickly. And now, when each new generation of client products hit shelves, our Pre-Si platform offerings will have played an important role.

Our Moonshot: Any Customer, Any System, Anywhere—In Seconds

But we’re not finished. Now that we’ve seen what’s possible, we’re expanding this approach to desktops and servers. In fact, many OEM/IBVs are already validating Intel’s next silicon architecture virtually, and a couple have already achieved successful Windows boot-ups.

We plan to continue fine-tuning based on partner feedback. Our ultimate goal is to enable any customer to access any system from anywhere in the world, in seconds. This would make the process even easier and more efficient, so our partners can focus on what they do best: creating incredible PC experiences.

Our team looks forward to working with the industry to fully realize the potential of this new approach.