IBM aims at 3D processors with fluidic network

Engineers at IBM have unveiled their latest attempt at an entirely new design of processing, stacking silicon wafers connected by a fluid-based network to form the first true 3D processors.

The company's research suggests that it will be feasible to produce a stack of a several hundred wafers, producing a semiconductor that extends vertically as well as horizontally. The result is a chip that packs far more technology into a small space than ever before.

The research, led by Bruno Michel, uses a dual fluidic network design to achieve its goal. The first network uses a charged fluid to power the processor, while the second takes the same fluid away to dissipate heat generated by the chips.

The result, Michel claims, is a chip that can be powered by its own cooling system, opening the way for high-performance ultra-dense processors for future supercomputers - and, eventually, consumer-grade products.

IBM isn't the only company looking at 3D processor design: chip giant Intel's next-generation Ivy Bridge processors include tri-gate transistor technology, which maintains performance while dropping the heat output - as measured in the Thermal Design Profile, or TDP - by around 50 per cent compared to a standard chip.

IBM's vision is somewhat larger, however: rather than a single layer of upright transistors, Michel's design comprises hundreds of layers of transistors - something that could prove a boon for those interested in many-core design methodologies.

More details on Michel's research is available from New Scientist (free registration required.)