Much of this wishful thinking, hyped by commodity memory manufacturers, can be attributed to the old adage that "those who do not learn from history shall be compelled to re-live it." As a veteran of the semiconductor industry who can barely remember the years when commodity memory companies actually made money, I would like to dispel this notion. My argument is based on the business realities of known good die (KGD), which is at the crux of why MCMs integrating commodity memory is a bad idea.
The semiconductor industry can be broken down into a few categories. One is integrated device manufacturers, giants such as Intel, Samsung and IBM, among others, that create original chip designs and build these chips for shipment in systems they manufacture. You could argue that Intel doesn't actually build PCs but they do everything other than bend the metal for the enclosures. These giants have the deep pockets needed to build next-generation process technologies, the intellectual property that allows them to extract a profit from building silicon.
The other group of semiconductor companies comprises fabless chip companies: Qualcomm, Broadcom and former integrated device manufacturers who have gone fabless. All these companies extract a profit from their unique chip designs. These designs are manufactured by silicon foundries such as TSMC, Globalfoundries and UMC that provide the bleeding-edge process technology—their intellectual property that enables them to exact a profit.
I want to single out one more class of semiconductor company: the brave souls that build commodity memory, DRAM, SRAMs and flash. Their business model relies entirely on predicting supply and demand for their production and keeping up with pricing and capacity demands from computer and portable device manufacturers. In times of high demand, they extract profit and build reserves to see them through the times of high supply.
Now, let's examine the business of a KGD, best be described as silicon that's only "half-baked," as the KGD has only been tested at the wafer level. This means the chip maker knows if the die on the wafer is dead or alive. The more extensive at speed testing comes when the device is packaged. The KGD the supplier ships, which tells the customer die size and manufacturing cost, must also come with tests and methodology for testing the KGD in package, providing information that most chipmakers classify as trade secrets and are reluctant to share.
This doesn't apply to companies that fab apps processors and all the other components that might go into a multi-chip module, but you can count on one hand the members of this set at advanced process nodes. This brings up the second challenge that haunts multi-chip modules: the problem of sole source. System manufacturers who buy semiconductors want a second source to provide negotiating leverage on price. When a system manufacturer commits to a mult-chip module, he is surrendering his leverage over the chip manufacturer and only the largest of customers—the ones that could crush a supplier either legally or otherwise can afford to put themselves in this position.
What about all those microcontroller-class chips? they are no longer limited to an 8-bit core with 1k RAM; for instance, the Broadcom chip in Raspberry Pi has 256MB memory and can run Linux just like that. I don't think it is 3D---my understanding is that they figured out a way to combine both logic and memory processes on the same die. This is a huge space---remember that the volume of microcontrollers is many times over that of conventional computing, except that nowadays what passes for microcontroller is as powerful as a decent desktop of few years ago.
The iPhone APs are package-on-package (PoP), like most mobile phone APs. In PoP, each die is encased in its own (usually plastic) package, with exposed leads or pads. In TSV, the two (or more) silicon die are directly connected. Then the combined die are packaged. Here's a good set of pictures: http://www.semiwiki.com/forum/f142/wally-rhines-3d-ic-keynote-628.html
Erm, aren't companies already producing multi-die, stacked memory devices?
"The iPhone's central processor is one of the components that features Apple package markings, but by decapsulating the device SI was able to identify it as a Samsung chip (as was exclusively reported by AppleInsider back in January), which features a three stacked die package containing the S5L8900 processor and two 512 Mbit SRAM dies. "
A good reminder of the logistics & business aspects of MCMs and how they would impact 3D stacking of Memory to Processors. But overwhelming technical advantages ( e,g. breaking the bandwidth / power consumption barrier ) for applications ( e,g. real time networked videogames ) in high volume systems ( Smartphones ) would drive the adoption of 3D stacks and solve the problems mentioned in the article ( they are trivial compared to staying on Moore's Law at this stage ).
David Patterson, known for his pioneering research that led to RAID, clusters and more, is part of a team at UC Berkeley that recently made its RISC-V processor architecture an open source hardware offering. We talk with Patterson and one of his colleagues behind the effort about the opportunities they see, what new kinds of designs they hope to enable and what it means for today’s commercial processor giants such as Intel, ARM and Imagination Technologies.