Documenting the Coming Singularity

Friday, April 13, 2007

3-D Chip Stacking Comes Much Closer

I've told you before about Moore's Law, which says that the number of transistors on an integrated circuit for minimum component cost doubles every 18 months. People have predicted that Moore's Law will ultimately hit the limits of physics, but new paradigms under development will allow it to continue. One of those paradigms is 3-dimensional stacking. Currently chips are laid out in only 2 dimensions, and have been connected by relatively long wires. According to the International Herald Tribune, "The memory and processor chips are often spaced inches apart from each other, causing a lag in transmission as chip makers multiply the number and voracity of calculating cores on their processors. Slowdowns crop up when data-hungry processors cannot retrieve information fast enough from memory to perform their increasingly complex functions."

But the irrepressible folks at IBM have found a way to connect chips vertically, shortening those distances hugely.

In IBM's solution, two chips are sandwiched on top of one another, the distance between them measured in microns, or millionths of a meter. They are held together by vertical connections that are etched in silicon holes filled with metal. The vertical connections are referred to as "through-silicon vias," which allow multiple chips to be stacked together and for more information to flow between them.

IBM said that its three-dimensional approach creates the possibility of up to 100 times more pathways for information, and divides by 1,000 times the distance that information needs to travel on a chip.

"This is a big step, this is a really historic move," said David Lammers, director of, a social networking Web site for semiconductor enthusiasts and part of VLSI Research. "This has been studied to death, but it's the first time a company is saying, 'We can connect two chips in the vertical direction.' "

This development gives chip makers a whole new direction, literally, in which to take their future products. IBM plans to begin full production in 2008. Intel and others are sure to be hot on their heels. Look for computers to become thousands of times more powerful in the very near future.

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