TAIPEI, Taiwan – Taiwan’s Etron Technology Inc. has started work on buffered DRAM designs geared for 3-D ICs using through-hole vias. It is also working on an upgrade to a gesture recognition module that compares favorably with Microsoft’s Kinect.
Etron started work last year on its first buffered memory chips for use with through silicon vias in 3-D chip stacks. Chip stacking technology has the potential to disrupt business models and traditional systems design, said Nicky Lu, chief executive of Etron and a veteran of Taiwan’s semiconductor industry.
Both more and less dense memory parts will be needed to support a variety of different kinds of 3-D chip stacks for different applications, said Lu known for his work driving Taiwan’s submicron program. “Most leading companies now claim TSVs will start in 2014, but I think 2015 is the first year of their real impact,” said Lu.
In the short term, the stacks will disrupt traditional thinking about the memory hierarchy in systems design. Long term, the stacks will include not only logic and memory die but optical, power. MEMS and bio components as well, he said.
3-D will open the door to putting packaging as a first step in component design. It will give chip designers deeper responsibilities in system design and systems designers an opportunity to define silicon, sometimes sparking collaborations between competitors, Lu said.
“I think Taiwan should do virtual vertical integration, making a cluster of companies that are separate but effectively collaborating to develop products,” Lu said. The groups should be “characterized by starting development together from day 1, sharing R&D and profit and loss,” he said.
“Whether this model could compete with Samsung or other vertical models is an open question,” he said.
3-D ICs could help raise the profile of memory chips. That could be particularly good news for Taiwan’s memory chip makers who have struggled to survive.
“Today DRAM companies are shorted because people don’t see their value, but in the future with 3-DICs I think this will change,” Lu said.
Separately, Etron is designing a USB 3.0 gesture recognition module that includes CMOS sensors and an image processor. It is an upgrade to an existing USB 2.0 module the company is showing at this week’s Computex show here.
The new module will process 60 frames/second at a progressive resolution of 1280 x720 pixels. It can produce both 3-D images and video while simultaneously handling 3-D motion recognition for gesture and body controls and be used in indoor or outside lighting.
By contrast, Kinect's camera cannot produce 3-D images during 3-D motion recognition and is only suitable for use indoors. “We have our own secret sauce to synchronize and process camera information using low cost CMOS sensors,” said Lu.
Etron claims the module is more power efficient than Kinect. It is geared for use in TVs, all-in-one PCs (now seeing resurgence), notebooks and even tablet computers—increasingly used as games devices.
3-D ICs will revive DRAMs and drive design collaborations, said Nicky Lu.
A DRAM executive told me the added costs expected with TSV-based integration would actually increase cost pressures on DRAM companies in Taiwan, despite the benefits that are offered by such integration.