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IBM and 3M team up for silicon towers

The two companies are working together on adhesives that can glue chips on top of one another to increase density, while radiating heat away to maintain performance
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By Jack Clark, Reporter on
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IBM 3M first stage

IBM and 3M have announced a collaboration to develop semiconductor packaging processes and adhesives that create stacks of chips, aiming to increase density and performance.

In theory, the technique would allow 100 chips to be stacked on top of one another without overheating, IBM and 3M said in a joint statement on Wednesday. The companies believe this could lead to a 1,000-fold increase in performance.

3M plans to create new types of adhesives that can radiate heat efficiently while holding silicon together. IBM, meanwhile, will work on semiconductor packaging methods to let the stacked chips use shared memory and networking technologies, which should allow performance to climb and aggregate power consumption to fall.

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IBM 3M stacking

The main advantage of stacking chips on top of one another is that it provides higher performance levels than if the chips are connected side by side. Inter-chip pathways are shorter, speeding signals up and needing less power to drive them. However, the higher density means more watts of heat generated per cubic centimetre. This needs to be expelled for the chips to function.

"Today's chips, including those containing '3D' transistors, are in fact 2D chips that are still very flat structures," Bernard Meyerson, a vice president of research at IBM, said in a statement. "Our scientists are aiming to develop materials that will allow us to package tremendous amounts of computing power into a new form factor — a silicon 'skyscraper.'"

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IBM 3M process

IBM has been working on 3D chips for a number of years and the adhesive collaboration will sit alongside a number of other schemes the IT giant has in place.

For the past few years it has been working on stacking chips and cooling them with water, by interspersing chips with lattices of water pipes the thickness of a human hair.

3D chips made with the water-cooling method could lead to a supercomputer the size of a sugar cube in 10 to 15 years, IBM said in 2010.


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