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Samsung stuffs 16 chips into one package

The stack of memory chips holds 16GB of memory and takes up the same amount of space formerly required for one chip.

In the never-ending quest to make cell phones and MP3 players smaller, Samsung Electronics has come up with a package that can stack 16 memory chips into a space that used to accommodate just one.

When stuffed with 8-gigabit flash memory chips, the package holds 16GB of memory. Multichip packages can also typically accommodate different types of chips, so a cell phone maker could insert flash memory, DRAM and a processor into the package.

Chip packaging is a crucial, if often overlooked, part of semiconductor manufacturing. A package essentially protects the processor or memory chips inside of it and serves as a conduit between these chips and the outside world. Package engineers at companies such as Tessera have to account for intense internal heat generated by the chips and how different components bend and flex in reaction to heat.

Packages can also have a huge impact on performance. Intel is looking at ways to use its Through Silicon Vias technology, which connects a processor core directly to a memory chip, to decrease communication lags inside computers. Stacking, of course, also saves space on the motherboard without taking up too much more room vertically.

Many chipmakers currently sell packages that can fit four chips, and Samsung has developed one that can fit ten chips. Samsung is the world's largest flash memory manufacturer as well as one of the largest customers for flash.

To stuff 16 in a package, the company has developed a thinning process that reduces the thickness of the wafer that serves as the source of the chips. The overall thickness of the package filled with chips comes to 30 microns. That's about 65 percent of the thickness of the chips crammed into the 10-chip package. The company also had to refine its laser-cutting technology so that the chips wouldn't break when being cut out of the wafer.

The chips inside the stack are piled up in a zigzag fashion to cut down on the length of the connections between chips.

Samsung did not say when these chips would start appearing in consumer electronic devices.