Microsoft Looks Within to Design and Test Chips

For more than two decades, Microsoft’s software and Intel’s processors were so wedded that the pairing came to be known as Wintel. But as that computing era wanes, Microsoft is turning to a new source of chip design: its own labs.

The design effort will initially be split between research labs at the company’s headquarters in Redmond, Wash., and its Silicon Valley campus here. Tentatively named the Computer Architecture Group, the project underscores sweeping changes in the industry.

One reason for the effort is that Microsoft needs to begin thinking about the next-generation design of its Xbox game console, said Charles P. Thacker, a veteran engineer and Microsoft engineer who will head the Silicon Valley group. Voice recognition may also be an area where the research could play a significant role.

“Voice is big,” Mr. Thacker said. “You can throw as much technology at it as you want to.”

Microsoft is exploring hardware design now in part because of a new set of tools that will make it possible to test ideas quickly, he said. The researchers will employ a system designed by researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, that makes it possible to reconfigure computer designs without the cost of making finished chips.

“We are at an inflection point in the industry,” he said. “Our friends say computers are not going to get faster, we’re just going to get more of them.”