IBM makes play with chip stacks

IBM claims it will be able to make microchips faster and more energy efficient by stacking components on top of each other, a breakthrough that shortens the distance an electrical signal needs to travel.

IBM makes play with chip stacks

The technique works by drilling tiny holes through a wafer of silicon and filling them with metal. Components such as memory can then be stacked on top of the main part of the chip, eliminating the need for wires stretching out to the sides.

IBM likened the method to replacing a sprawling airport parking lot with a multi-storied garage right next to the terminal. Like people walking from the garage to the terminal, electrical signals do not have to travel as far in a chip with stacked components.

‘It opens up a range of applications and neat things we can do,’ said Lisa Su, head of semiconductor research at IBM.

IBM will use the method to make power management chips for wireless devices later this year, allowing them to use 40 percent less power than previous versions, Su said in an interview.

Eventually, IBM plans to incorporate the technique into full-blown processors, she said.

It is the latest achievement by International Business Machine Corp.’s semiconductor researchers, who have in recent months hit upon several breakthroughs in materials science and chip design.

‘We have been working on techniques like this for the past 10 years and you never know when they are going to come to market,’ Su said. ‘The scope of innovation you have to deal with is much larger. It’s not just materials and atoms, but systems and how you put components together.’

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