3D processor clocks in

Researchers at the University of Rochester have developed a three-dimensional processor that is running at 1.4GHz.

Researchers at the University of Rochester have developed a 3D processor that is running at 1.4GHz.

Unlike past attempts at 3D chips, the Rochester chip is not simply a number of regular processors stacked on top of one another. It was designed and built specifically to optimise all key processing functions vertically, through multiple layers of processors.

The design means that tasks such as synchronicity, power distribution and long-distance signalling are all fully functioning in three dimensions for the first time.

’I call it a cube now, because it’s not just a chip anymore,’ said Eby Friedman, distinguished professor of electrical and computer engineering at Rochester, who created the device along with graduate student Vasilis Pavlidis.

Friedman said that the 3D chip is essentially an entire circuit board folded up into a tiny package. He claims that by using such fabrication techniques all the circuitry inside an iPod could be compacted to a 10th of its current size and run 10-times faster.

What makes it all possible is the architecture that Friedman and his students designed, which uses many of the tricks of regular processors, but also accounts for different impedances that might occur from chip to chip, different operating speeds and different power requirements.

The fabrication of the chip is unique. Manufactured at MIT, the chip must have millions of holes drilled into the insulation that separates the layers to allow for the myriad vertical connections between transistors in different layers.

Prof Friedman has written a book on 3D integrated circuit design with Pavlidis. It is entitled Three-Dimensional Integrated Circuit Design and will be published this month. Details are available here.