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Weighing in on 3D ICs; the pros and cons

Posted: 28 Nov 2013     Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:3D IC  analogue  logic  SoC 

The buzz about 3D IC sees no letting up. However, there is still some confusion with regard to this this area. To elucidate some of these misperceptions, it is best to look at the world before 3D ICs came to be.

Not so long ago, different functions such as high-performance logic, lower-performance logic, memory and analogue/RF were presented as discrete dice in their own chip packages. (Dice is an accepted plural form of die in the semiconductor industry.)

One advantage of this scenario was that different chip companies could concentrate on creating devices that fell into their realm of expertise. Another benefit was that each die could be implemented at the most appropriate technology node. The high-performance digital logic chip could be created at the latest and greatest (and more expensive) technology node; the lower-performance digital logic device could be created using an earlier (and more affordable) technology node; and so forth. Yet another advantage was that the yield of smaller silicon chips was significantly higher than that for larger dice.

Circuit board

On the downside, the resulting circuit board was relatively large and heavy and consumed a lot of power. Also, every soldered joint on a circuit board was a potential point of failure. Furthermore, it took a relatively long time for signals to propagate across a circuit board from one chip package to another. This hurt the performance of the system as a whole.

Having large quantities of individually packaged silicon chips was not a major problem when it came to electronic products that were the size of filing cabinets, weighed a thousand or so pounds, and were powered by a cable plugged into the wall. These days, however, there's a strong drive toward creating smaller products that offer humongous performance while consuming very little power. This is particularly true for handheld, battery-powered products like smartphones and tablets.

All of this led to the development of SoC devices, in which all of the functions are implemented on a single die.

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