updated 05:00 pm EDT, Tue September 16, 2008
Rochester cube processor
The University of Rochester on Monday announced it has a working three-dimensional computer chip it calls the cube and is running at 1.4GHz. The nicknamed Rochester cube takes the concept of three-dimensional circuits to a new level, as its processing functions are optimized vertically in the same way as a regular chip's are optimized horizontally, unlike previous attempts that simply stacked regular chips atop one another. Developed by Eby Friedman, Distinguished Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Rochester and faculty director of the processor, and engineering student Vasilis Pavlidis, the 3D chip is described as basically a whole circuit board folded up into a small footprint.
Friedman maintains typical chips in the consumer devices such as iPods could be made ten times smaller and have ten time the processing power with the new technology. Such vertical expansion does have major hurdles to cross, however, as making the three layers interact like a single system will require the development of an advanced control system. Each layer could be assigned specific tasks such as converting images or controlling a camera, prompting the design's comparison to a circuit board.
The cube's operation was made possible thanks to the architecture Friedman and the University students designed, which accounts for the chips' different impedances, operating speeds and power requirements. The design is the very first that makes synchronicity, power distribution and long-distance signaling fully functioning in three dimensions. The chip itself was manufactured at MIT and has mullions on microscopic holes drilled into the insulation between layers to allow vertical connections to the transistors in each layer.
Friedman believes scaling circuits horizontally is nearing its limits, while vertical scaling is just in its infancy and will be the future of chip design. [via Eureka Alert]