Jumpstarting computers with 3-D chips

January 24, 2012
The chip is composed of three or more processors that are stacked vertically and connected together -- resulting in increased speed and multitasking, more memory and calculating power, better functionality and wireless connectivity. Credit: EPFL / Alain Herzog

EPFL scientist are among the leaders in the race to develop an industry-ready prototype of a 3D chip as well as a high-performance and reliable manufacturing method. The chip is composed of three or more processors that are stacked vertically and connected together—resulting in increased speed and multitasking, more memory and calculating power, better functionality and wireless connectivity. Developed at the Microelectronics Systems Laboratory (LSM), Director Yusuf Leblebici is unveiling these results to experts on Wednesday the 25th of January in Paris, in a keynote presentation at the 2012 Interconnection Network Architectures Workshop.

"It's the logical next step in electronics development, because it allows a large increase in terms of efficiency," says Leblebici.

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Up to this point, chips could only be assembled horizontally via connections along their edges. Here, they are connected vertically by several hundred very thin copper microtubes. These wires pass through tiny openings, called Through-Silicon-Vias (TSV), made in the core of the silicon layer of each chip.

3D processors

"This superposition reduces the distance between circuits, and thus considerably improves the speed of data exchange," explains LSM researcher Yuksel Temiz, who is doing his PhD thesis on the subject.

"It's the logical next step in electronics development, because it allows a large increase in terms of efficiency," says Leblebici. Credit: EPFL / Alain Herzog

To reach this result, the team had to overcome a number of difficulties, such as the fragility of the copper connections and supports which, because they are miniaturized to such an extreme degree (about 50 micrometers in thickness), are as thin as a human hair. "In three years of work, we made and tested thousands of TSV connections, and had more than 900 functioning simultaneously," says Leblebici. "Now we have a production process that is really efficient." He adds that the laboratory has also manufactured 3D multi-core , connected by a TSV network.

This technology will initially be made available to a number of academic research teams for further development, before being commercialized.

Explore further: Samsung Develops 3D Memory Package that Greatly Improves Performance Using Less Space

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12 comments

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El_Nose
5 / 5 (1) Jan 24, 2012
soon to be bought out by intel
Sonhouse
5 / 5 (1) Jan 24, 2012
Don't worry, Intel is also working on 3D technology too. As it stands now, we go wider, the signal path length increases, data rates have to go down too. Putting them atop one another greatly speeds up data flow. The biggest question is cooling the resultant assembly, for instance, a modern CPU like the I7 puts out as much heat per square than a food griddle, so heat transfer is a big deal for these CPU's. Can they get heat out 4 times more efficiently now? Probably not, so the lifetime of the assembly would probably suffer for it. The problem is endemic in all CPU's and 3D makes it 3D times worse. Now there will have to be a new round of technological work to get rid of the resultant heat. Still, the computer will be a lot faster for it though.
finitesolutions
5 / 5 (1) Jan 24, 2012
Compute with photons instead of electrons. That should speed up the chips and cool them.
Graeme
not rated yet Jan 24, 2012
Using current technology light takes a lot of energy to generate and detect. Even now the information transfer on chips is down to photons at microwave frequencies coupled to the conductive channels in the chip. The 3D idea will reduce heat production since less chip area will be taken up with connections, allowing things to be closer and less resistance in the interconnects.
kaasinees
1 / 5 (1) Jan 24, 2012
soon to be bought out by intel


intel has something better. 3D transistors. also intel pretty maxed out the heat dissipation already.

IBM developed an idea for channels through the chip to cool more efficiently it can still cool the chip even thought the water itself is 50 degrees celcius.
claudiu_andone
not rated yet Jan 25, 2012
Even a child would think of sparing space by vertically stacking objects and I'm absolutely sure that any chip maker would consider the option but there is absolutely no word in the presentation about cooling such chips. Spacing out the transistors within the circuit will bring us back to the drawing board by the efficiency. However the thinning of the chip would help in a certain amount to heat dissipation.
Sonhouse
not rated yet Jan 25, 2012
Compute with photons instead of electrons. That should speed up the chips and cool them.

Well, there you go, problem solved. Wow, that was SO easy.
plasma_guy
not rated yet Jan 27, 2012
Intel, Samsung, Elpida, TSMC, IBM, Micron have all already done considerable work in this area. There are still issues with thermal dissipation and testing costs. Unfortunately, electrical distance and heat-traveling distance go together.
antialias_physorg
not rated yet Jan 30, 2012
Compute with photons instead of electrons. That should speed up the chips and cool them.

As soon as you tell us how to make a photon transistor without using electrical components...
finitesolutions
not rated yet Feb 01, 2012
Compute with photons instead of electrons. That should speed up the chips and cool them.

As soon as you tell us how to make a photon transistor without using electrical components...

You need to optically implement the AND, OR, XOR, buffers ... building blocks and you build your chips with these.
Instead of plugging wires into the chips you plug fiber optics.
antialias_physorg
not rated yet Feb 01, 2012
Electrical components can draw additional power to compensate (heat) losses. Transistors can draw more power so that the stream of electrons/holes between components remains constant down th line.
The problem with photons is: Individual 'photonic' transistors cannot generate additional photons if some are lost (due to inevitable absorption losses) UNLESS they are connected to some electrical components that provide power for generating additional photons at each junction (by means of quantum dot light emitters or whatnot).

Currently you absolutely need this. So switching to photon based computation does not, in any way, alleviate the problem of cooling chips because you still need the electrical wiring at every transistor junction.
finitesolutions
not rated yet Feb 01, 2012
The problem with photons is: Individual 'photonic' transistors cannot generate additional photons if some are lost (due to inevitable absorption losses) UNLESS they are connected to some electrical components that provide power for generating additional photons at each junction (by means of quantum dot light emitters or whatnot).

What I would like to see is a gross to refine approach. Yeah the first photonic chips will not beat any commercially available electronic microprocessor but they can prove some points.

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