I recently mentioned how Intel (Nasdaq: INTC) is turning up the heat in the computer microprocessor industry with its new 3-D chip design. If you recall, the company’s developers engineered a way to get more speed out of its microprocessors while taking up less space and using less power.
You see, the duo just teamed up to test a new process that will allow a microprocessor to perform at 1,000 times the speed of current ones.
And the concept behind this groundbreaking innovation is almost mind-boggling in its simplicity: just a handful of chips and lots of glue.
Let me explain…
IBM and 3M’s “Opening Salvo”
According to IBM’s Vice President of Research, Bernard Meyerson, the speed benefits offered by Intel’s 3-D processor design will eventually hit their peak. And the answer to eking out more power from chips in the future is simple: Stack multiple processors together to form a brick.
He believes by jamming 100 processors together, the brick could outperform current computers, smartphones and tablets by a thousand times over.
According to Meyerson, “The entire industry is going to refocus on this sort of thing… We are firing the opening salvo.”
While the idea of piling processors on top of each other might sound fairly straightforward, limitations facing current technology have made the process difficult.
So here’s how IBM and 3M will make it happen:
~#1 Too Much Brainpower Leads to Overheating
Think of how warm your laptop or smartphone can get after extended use. Now imagine trying to find glue strong enough to withstand the heat and hold 100 nano-sized microprocessor chips together.
Enter: 3M’s heat-resistant glue.
Essentially, 3M plans to work closely with IBM to develop a glue that not only holds the chips together under the heat, but also keeps chips cool. As the announcement says, the adhesive would be able to “efficiently conduct heat through a densely packed stack of chips and away from heat-sensitive components, such as logic circuits.”
The plan is to coat thousands of processors with the adhesive all at once. In comparison, “current processes are akin to frosting a cake slice-by-slice.”
~#2 Establishing Adequate Links
Stacking is difficult because “most chips communicate through a relatively small number of connections on their outside edge, which limits where electrical signals travel and makes packaging difficult,” according to The Wall Street Journal.
So it’s IBM’s mission to equip microprocessor chips with hundreds of thousands of connectors. And to better facilitate stacking, IBM’s placing the connectors on the top and bottom surfaces of each silicon layer. This will allow the electrical signals to travel between all of the chips in the stack more easily.
Granted, the companies have only announced their intentions to produce this technology. Meaning they don’t have a workable prototype yet.
But Mashable reports that this chip “should go into production” by the end of 2013, and consumers could see it powering their electronics in 2014. So it’s definitely on my radar.
Bottom line: While Intel’s 3-D design is safe for now, finding a way to make its 3-D chip stackable wouldn’t hurt. Especially if it wants to stay competitive as breakthroughs like IBM and 3M’s keep popping up.
After all, when it comes to this kind of technology, the fastest product wins out in the market every time.