Day Visit Journal


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The quietest place on earth, Anechoic Chamber 1 at Orfield Labs.

We were given a warm welcome speech by Mr. Kwok Lih, whom happens to be a alumni of our school. Several talks were then given regarding background knowledge of Intel. For example, Mr. Kwok told us about the history of Intel starting from its beginning at Silicon Valley to its current success.

We also saw a picture of the first ever transistor, made at Bell Laboratories on December 16, 1947 by William Shockley, John Bardeen and Walter Brattain. Most importantly, in my opinion, we were also introduced to the discrete concepts of digital and analogue. Various examples were given as well to aid our understanding of this topic, one of them being the dimmer switch or the flip switch.

A dimmer switch allows the user to choose a range of brightness, just like how analogue system rely on a spectrum of frequencies. A flip switch is either on or off; full blast or nothing. This is just like a digital system, where each transistor is a "switch".

The 3Cs – Communication, Computer and Control was introduced. A basic example of a control system that was used was the toilet flush system, which relied on a floating rubber ball. For me, it really helped me to understand how it plays an integral role in our lives. The “Tick-tock” microprocessor development model which Intel uses was introduced as well. This model was adopted by Intel Corporation since 2007 to follow every microarchitectural change with shrinking of the process technology, to ensure that processor architecture brings out the fullest potential of then new silicon process.

After that, we headed toward the Intel canteen to eat chips! No, actually it was a buffet style lunch, generously catered by Intel.

We then headed to the opposite wing for the lab tours and hands-on workshops. We were first shown some equipment used for testing mobile phone systems. In the lab, they had a special base station emulator, which acts just like a real cellular tower by SingTel or M1. This allows them to test the compatibility of the phone to current cell networks and make adjustments accordingly.

In that same lab, we were also shown a measurement of a phone’s power consumption, and the engineer told us that they aimed to reduce it as much as possible to prolong battery life. We found this rather amusing as just as he was saying that, my phone ran out of battery.

There was also equipment testing Bluetooth connectivity, which is used for close range communication by Bluetooth headsets or the like. To minimize external interference from other sources, and ensure accuracy of the test results, the tests had to be conducted inside a radiation-shielded box, or "shoebox".

We were next shown an anechoic chamber in which sound tests were conducted. Before this visit, I thought that IMC manufactured baseband ICs and cellular radios, and did not have anything to do with sound testing. Although I have heard of anechoic chambers before and seen pictures of them, I never had the chance to see one in reality before. It was certainly an interesting sight. It was like a small chamber which walls were lined with thick pyramid shaped foam blocks, and inside there was a dummy to simulate a real person making a phone call. These chambers are used to eliminate outside noise and also eliminate echo, so that it would not affect the results of the test.

Next was the hands on session. There were 3 different stations. We first went for the audio station, where we were shown how the volume of the voice could be adjusted through frequency and also how echos and white noise were eliminated. We got to try talking into the mic, while another person listened on the other end, and we were able to hear the differences before and after some tuning. The next station was the RF station, where we were shown how the device communicates with the base station. There was the base station emulator, connected via a wire to the device to prevent interference with the real cellular networks as they are operating on the same frequency.

Lastly, we were also shown how the phone’s processing works. There was a complex device that was built around a large printed circuit board, which turned out to be an actual cellphone, just without all the packaging and compactness. The reason for the large size was to provide for debugging connections and ports, because when everything was compacted together in the form we are familiar with in our devices, there would be hardly any room and would be very hard to work with.