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The Most Complex 2D Microchip Yet

This molybdenum disulfide microprocessor contains more than 100 transistors

3 min read
Photo: Stefan Wachter
Flat and Packed: The prototype processor consumes about 60 microwatts and contains 115 transistors. Its designers hope to integrate more.
Photo: Stefan Wachter

Scientists hope that two-dimensional materials such as graphene or molybdenum disulfide will allow Moore’s Law to continue apace once it becomes impossible to make further progress using silicon. A 3-atom-thick microchip developed by researchers at the Vienna University of Technology (VUT) may be the first example of 2D materials following the seemingly inexorable growth in the number of transistors in integrated circuits that Gordon Moore observed decades ago. Previously, the number of transistors on ICs made from 2D materials had remained in the single digits, says study senior author Thomas Müller­, an electrical engineer at VUT. The chip that he and his colleagues created boasts 115 transistors. They described their device on 11 April in the journal Nature.

The microchip can execute user-defined programs stored in external memory, perform logic operations, and transmit data to its periphery. Although this prototype operates on single-bit data, the researchers say their design is readily scalable to multibit data. They also note their invention is compatible with existing semiconductor manufacturing processes.

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3 Ways 3D Chip Tech Is Upending Computing

AMD, Graphcore, and Intel show why the industry’s leading edge is going vertical

8 min read
A stack of 3 images.  One of a chip, another is a group of chips and a single grey chip.
Intel; Graphcore; AMD

A crop of high-performance processors is showing that the new direction for continuing Moore’s Law is all about up. Each generation of processor needs to perform better than the last, and, at its most basic, that means integrating more logic onto the silicon. But there are two problems: One is that our ability to shrink transistors and the logic and memory blocks they make up is slowing down. The other is that chips have reached their size limits. Photolithography tools can pattern only an area of about 850 square millimeters, which is about the size of a top-of-the-line Nvidia GPU.

For a few years now, developers of systems-on-chips have begun to break up their ever-larger designs into smaller chiplets and link them together inside the same package to effectively increase the silicon area, among other advantages. In CPUs, these links have mostly been so-called 2.5D, where the chiplets are set beside each other and connected using short, dense interconnects. Momentum for this type of integration will likely only grow now that most of the major manufacturers have agreed on a 2.5D chiplet-to-chiplet communications standard.

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