Micron to tap IBM chip-stacking tech for fast memory

IBM's so-called 3D-chip technology is set to be used in next-generation memory processors from Micron Technology, yielding very-high-speed DRAM.

Through-silicon via (TSV) technology is used to stack memory on top of a controller chip ('logic layer'). The on-chip controller is the key to delivering the performance boost.
Through-silicon via (TSV) technology is used to stack memory on top of a controller chip ('logic layer'). The on-chip controller is the key to delivering the performance boost. Micron

IBM and Micron Technology are beginning to produce a new memory chip based on technology designed to boost memory speeds 15-fold.

The technology, the companies announced today, will be used to make a Hybrid Memory Cube chip that will be commercially manufactured by Micron, the largest manufacturer of memory chips in the United States and one of the largest in the world. IBM plans to manufacture and supply the "controller" silicon that will be used in the memory as well as in the 3D-chip technology.

The joint efforts are designed to result in memory chips that realize the full performance potential of DRAM, or dynamic random access memory, resolving a long-standing problem referred to as the "memory wall." Initially, the technology will be used in areas such as networking and high-performance computing, but Micron and IBM say it will eventually appear in consumer products.

IBM's technology is based on something called through-silicon via, or TSV: vertical conduits that electrically connect a stack of individual chips. Because of the ability to stack chips, TSV is sometimes referred to as 3D. This technology will be combined with Micron's state-of-the-art DRAM.

"IBM's advanced TSV chipmaking process enables Micron's Hybrid Memory Cube to achieve speeds 15 times faster than today's technology," IBM said in a statement.

Hybrid Memory Cube chips offer speeds of 128 gigabytes per second. By comparison, current state-of-the-art devices deliver 12.8GBps, IBM said. The Cube also requires 70 percent less energy to transfer data while offering a more compact design--about 10 percent of the footprint of conventional memory.

IBM will manufacture its Hybrid Memory Cube components at its semiconductor plant in East Fishkill, N.Y., using the company's 32-nanometer high-K metal gate process technology.

"Our ability to use TSVs in commercial...production and integrating other chip technology, such as high-speed communications, is a key advancement in the move to 3D semiconductor manufacturing," IBM Fellow Subu Iyer said in a statement.

The chips are expected to ship in the second half of 2012.

About the author

Brooke Crothers writes about mobile computer systems, including laptops, tablets, smartphones: how they define the computing experience and the hardware that makes them tick. He has served as an editor at large at CNET News and a contributing reporter to The New York Times' Bits and Technology sections. His interest in things small began when living in Tokyo in a very small apartment for a very long time.


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