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Archive for October, 2007

At Large At IMEC: “To 3D or not 3D? When/How is the Question.”

Thursday, October 18th, 2007

Editor’s Note: These continuing reports are from Jim Kobylecky – Chip Design’s Technology Editor – at the IMEC in Leuven, Belgium. – JB

Unless you’re going to begin that second career soon as an Alaskan bush pilot, you will probably find yourself becoming a 3D designer. Chip real estate isn’t getting any cheaper, and the decision to start building high-rises on your silicon Manhattan is inevitable. Some applications, such as memory are already there. Past a point, it will just make economic sense.

But “When? will that point be, and “How? it will come about are not easy questions. That was the consensus of a panel discussion at the ARRM2007 Press Preview, an intensive IMEC technology conference in Leuven, Belgium. Moderator Pol Marchal (see figure 1 below), a Senior Researcher at IMEC, poised why/when/how questions to Fred Roozeboom of NXP, Diederik Verkest of IMEC (see figure 2 below), Jochen Resinger of Infineon, and Erick Beyne of IMEC (see figure 3 below). While 3D designing in some categories is already taking place, they’re relatively obvious, almost homogeneous propositions. When it comes to stacking many different kinds of IP and deciding between many different ways to interconnect them, the situations get much more complex. Much too risky to try without really good, thorough exploration and verification tools. Unfortunately, it’s also too risky to develop such complex EDA tools until there are enough users willing to buy them. It will be 2D business as usual for the time being.

Yet the economic advantages will gradually grow, first for special applications, then for more and more uses until the question in ten years, according to one panelist, will change to “why use 2D?? Future historically, it seems that when there are enough potential or experimental users, the tools will appear, and when there are enough tools, enough users will appear.

Chicken? Egg? The answer may be incremental. Long before there is true 3D general purpose design, their will be “2.5D.? Maybe we’re already at 2.1D. Startups and graduates straight out of the universities are already experimenting and developing early, incomplete tool sets. And as they and their initial users collide, the databases and standards necessary to develop more advanced tools will form out of the debris. The question then is “how soon.? Will there be enough “Co-petition? as one IMEC foil put it for these initial developments to quickly take place? Or are we coming into a time of competition that will delay the future? Ten years from now, we’ll know the answer, and it will seem very obvious.

On the “Yeah, but what now?? front, I should mention there were also demonstrations of recent IMEC developments that are just short of going out to become someone’s new products. These included a wireless sleep apnea monitor that can be used for home pre-screening and a body heat powered wireless EEG prototype (see figure 4 below). Coming soon to a Borg near you.

Figure 1: Moderator Pol Marchal set the stage.

Moderator Pol Marchal set the stage.

Figure 2: Fred Roozeboom and Diederik Verkest gave their perspectives.

Fred Roozeboom and Diederik Verkest

Figure 3: Jochen Resinger and Erick Beyne added their views.

Jochen Resinger and Erick Beyne
Figure 4: Sleep Apnea and Self-Powered Brain Monitors hit the keyboard.

Sleep Apnea and Self-Powered Brain Monitors

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At Large: The IMEC ARRM2007 Press Review

Tuesday, October 16th, 2007

Editor’s Note: The following reports are from Jim Kobylecky, our own Chip Design editor. – JB

With competitive pressures growing and R&D budgets shrinking, where is the future coming from? Where are the generations beyond the next generation of technology being actively and practically explored?

One hopeful answer is here in Leuven, Belgium . It’s a town that features a university nearly 600 years old and the scene of many intellectual conflicts and resolutions. It’s a locale steeped in the work and fun of learning (see figure 1). It’s also the center for IMEC, a highly successful consortium of technology companies and university academics, where the costs, risks and rewards of advanced research are shared.


Some forty editors and journalists from around the world came for the ARRM2007 Press Review, an advanced peek at the latest and greatest that will be shown to the larger world later this week.

The first day’s program kicked off with general presentations by several officers including its president, Gilbert Declerck, and Chief Operating Officer Luc Van den hove (see figure below)on the state of the consortium and on IMEC’s response to the changing semiconductor landscape. There were briefings on the latest program announcements and then Maarten Willems, the Emerging Business Strategy Director, drove us into the future with “The road to autonomous driving.

IMEC Pres and COO

There were many program announcements, which I’ll try to get to later. But I think I most enjoyed the chance to look inside the workings of the consortium itself. It’s R&D with a big “R.? Its task is to work ahead of industrial needs by 3 to 10 years in microelectronics and many related fields. But it’s not just tasked with being a center of world wide excellence through its papers and patents, but to also serve the local area with spin offs, collaborations, training and educational interactions. Originally funded in 1984 largely by the Flanders state government of Belgium, it is now one of the largest independent R&D organizations in the world with a staff of 1550 and most of its funding coming from its industry partners.

IMEC works early. In its scope, industry competitors can still work together creatively and openly. The competitive edge each seeks will be honed later, after the real road blocks to development have been creatively solved.

There are many things I still don’t know, and probably can’t from my perspective – such as how the handoff happens from deep, individual research into the teams necessary for early development – but I liked what I saw so far. – Jim

Giants Sell-off Advanced TCA

Monday, October 1st, 2007

Motorola has just announced the sell-off of its embedded computing business to Emerson Network Power. This move will undoubtedly help Motorola focus on its primary business of wireless handsets and such.

Perhaps more interesting is that this move by Motorola – who’s ECC technology is based on Advanced TCA standard – parallels Intel’s recent sell off of its own Advanced TCA (and PCI) board business to Radisys. So two of the PICMG’s largest Advanced TCA proponents – Intel and Motorola – have now sold their respective businesses to single-board computer companies, namely, Radysis and Emerson. Does this mean that Advanced TCA is a mature standard (read “commodity”)? Or perhaps Intel and Motorola feel the continued financial need to focus more closely on core business technologies?