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Sep 09, 2011

Moore’s Law Lives Another Day Thanks to IBM and 3M

By Mike Westholder

Despite years of reporting on the imminent demise of Moore’s law, it appears to be safe, for now. This means greater job security for tech writers and bloggers stumped for a lead. The old standby line about the doubling of computer processing power will remain viable thanks, in part, to a new partnership between IBM and 3M.

The two leading innovators in computing and adhesive technologies announced last week their efforts to create adhesives that will enable the construction of truly 3D semiconductors. Using these revolutionary materials, they will be able to stack layers of up to 100 separate chips. These bricks of silicon could deliver chips that are 1,000 times faster than today’s fastest microprocessor. So Moore’s law appears safe for the foreseeable future.

The naysayers have contended that 2D silicon chips are limited by their design and can only expand horizontally to a finite point. Thus, their processing power is also bound to reach a limit. So instead of expanding horizontally, chip sets have nowhere to go but up, and scale vertically. One of the challenges, however, is creating an effective “glue” to hold layers of chips together.

“Today's chips, including those containing ‘3D’ transistors, are in fact 2D chips that are still very flat structures,” notes Bernard Meyerson, vice president of Research at IBM. “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.’ We believe we can advance the state-of-art in packaging, and create a new class of semiconductors that offer more speed and capabilities while they keep power usage low—key requirements for many manufacturers, especially for makers of tablets and smartphones.” 

A critical component of the new adhesives is the capability to conduct heat away from the silicon package. To see how the technology stacks up, check out this short video.

Under their agreement, IBM will create new semiconductor packaging processes while 3M develops and manufactures the adhesive materials. There’s still no word on whether the joint effort will result in a new IB4M logo. (If only Moore’s law could help tech bloggers write better conclusions as well.)



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