IBM claims chip manufacturing breakthrough

Armonk, N.Y. — IBM announced what it called a breakthrough chip-stacking manufacturing technology that paves the way for three-dimensional chips that will extend Moore’s Law beyond its expected limits. 

The technology – called “through-silicon vias” — allows different chip components to be packaged much closer together for faster, smaller, and lower-power systems, the company said. 

It enables the move from horizontal 2-D chip layouts to 3-D chip stacking, which takes chips and memory devices that traditionally sit side by side on a silicon wafer and stacks them together on top of one another. The result is a compact sandwich of components that reduces the size of the overall chip package and boosts the speed at which data flows among the functions on the chip.

“This breakthrough is a result of more than a decade of pioneering research at IBM,” said Lisa Su, vice-president of IBM’s semiconductor research and development Center. “This allows us to move 3-D chips from the ‘lab to the fab’ across a range of applications.”

The new IBM method eliminates the need for long-metal wires that connect today’s 2-D chips together. Instead, chips will use through-silicon vias, which are essentially vertical connections etched through the silicon wafer and filled with metal. These vias allow multiple chips to be stacked together, allowing greater amounts of information to be passed between the chips.

The technique shortens the distance information on a chip needs to travel by 1,000 times, and allows for the addition of up to 100 times more channels, or pathways, for that information to flow compared to 2-D chips. 

IBM is already running chips using the through-silicon via technology in its manufacturing line and will begin making sample chips using this method available to customers in the second half of 2007, with production in 2008.

The first application of this through-silicon via technology will be in wireless communications chips that will go into power amplifiers for wireless LAN and cellular applications. 3-D technology will also be applied to a wide range of chips, including those running now in IBM’s Power high-performance servers and Blue Gene supercomputers and in high-bandwidth memory applications.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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