Momentum builds for 3-D chips

April 04, 2011 // By Mark LaPedus
Momentum builds for 3-D chips
Many wonder if mainstream 3-D chips based on through-silicon-via (TSV) technology is feasible-or will even fly-amid ongoing problems in the arena.

The progress remains slow and the technology still appears to be in the ''power point’’ stage.

Still, the IC industry is moving full speed ahead with a monumental and costly push to develop TSV-based 3-D chips. A plethora of companies, including IBM, Intel, Samsung, Toshiba, TSMC and others, are exploring the possibility of stacking current devices in a
3-D configuration.

At the 2011 GSA Memory Conference on Thursday (March 31), four industry organizations-IMEC, ITRI, Sematech and SEMI-separately made presentations about the latest progress within their respective entities for 3-D chips based on TSV.

A 3-D working group within SEMI met for the first time this week to sketch out the initial wafer and tool standards for TSV technology. SEMI has three task groups within its 3-D group. A fourth group is being formed, which may be led by Applied Materials Inc.

In a separate program within Sematech, the chip-making consortium is expanding its own 3-D program. One surprising chip maker, Analog Devices Inc., is joining Sematech’s ''3-D Design Enablement Center.’’ Altera, LSI, On Semiconductor and Qualcomm are also part of the center.

A plethora of others are also scrambling to develop TSV-based technology-and for good reason: There are fears that IC scaling is becoming too costly for most chip makers-or will end in the distant future.

So instead of scaling, there is another concept on the table: stack and connect devices in a 3-D configuration using TSVs. For years, chip makers have been talking about 3-D chips based on TSVs. But except for select products-such as CMOS image sensors-the technology has not moved into the mainstream, due to costs, lack of standards and other factors.

In theory, 3-D chips could evolve in two steps. The first step is a 2.5-D scheme using silicon interposers. Then, eventually, the industry could move to TSV-if it can solve the multitude of problems with the technology.

Right now, there are several new and mainstream

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