New Infineon technology -- faster chips, lower costs

Infineon Technologies AG has developed a new technology to connect and package stacked integrated circuit chips, promising to speed up chip performance while reducing costs, the company said Monday.

Researchers at the Munich, Germany, semiconductor company have developed a soldering method called solid liquid interdiffusion (SOLID), which allows multiple chips to be combined in one package to create a single product.

"In a nutshell, the SOLID technique allows us to increase the complexity of chips so that we can add more functions and applications, and do this more cost efficiently," a company spokesman said. "The technology will also play a role in delivering systems that provide greater security."

At present, Infineon is using the technology to develop a prototype smart card controller, expected to be completed in the second half of 2003. Current smart card controller products combine both a logic chip and a memory chip on a single planar surface, limiting memory capacity typically to 32KB. The prototype controller that Infineon is developing based on SOLID technology will have 160KB of nonvolatile memory "or enough to run a version of the Linux operating system software," the spokesman said.

Infineon hasn't decided whether it will license the technology to other manufacturers, the spokesman said.

In all semiconductor-based applications, such as mobile phones, multiple chips exchange electronic signals using fine wires laid out precisely on printed circuit boards. The longer the lines between the adjacent chips, the more time an electrical signal takes to travel. This makes design more complex and can slow down performance.

Additionally, the number of possible circuit wires is limited in a tiny space. As chips become more complex, their wiring becomes more difficult and consequently it becomes more expensive to implement applications that require high frequencies, such as communication technology.

With SOLID technology, the tracks between the contacts are much shorter, according to Infineon. A SOLID product can achieve clock rates of up to 200GHz, or 100-times faster than today's fastest desktop PC processors, and thus support more communication lines between the chips in the package, the company said.

Compared to existing chip systems, a SOLID product can pack hundreds of times the number of connections into the same space, the company said. For instance, a chip that is manufactured with the SOLID process requires up to 50 percent less space than conventional products with the same functionality on chips arranged side by side, it said.

The new technology is suitable for almost any semiconductor application, from chips for handsets to those for industrial and automotive systems, Infineon said. It can reduce costs for manufacturing existing products by up to 30 percent through the more effective use of production facilities, the company said.

SOLID technology uses standard chipmaking and packaging machinery.

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