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Hardware Hacking Hardware

Building Chips Like LEGO 50

MattSparkes writes "It seems that 3D silicon chips, allowing designers to fit more components into a smaller space, could soon be made far easier to create with a little inspiration from a classic children's toy. "Silicon wafers covered with matching patterns of Lego-like teeth and holes could aid the development of 3D electronics, say UK researchers." Crucially, this technique can make use of existing machinery."
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Building Chips Like LEGO

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  • Patents? (Score:1, Interesting)

    by phil-trick ( 24853 )
    Well, Lego (TM) could be on to a nice earner with this one....
    • Not really, this is more like baking a cake and pre-shaping the pastry first.

      The units are not hand stacked for home use, they are stacked and welded, just the initial dents and hills assist the alignment process.
      • I think the parent was saying that since the parts fit by using the same interface shapes as Lego's, they'd violate the patent because they use that specific shape.

        Of course, that's wrong, since Lego's patent has long since expired. That doesn't stop the company from threatening imitators though...
    • Re:Patents? (Score:5, Informative)

      by TheRaven64 ( 641858 ) on Monday January 15, 2007 @12:15PM (#17614528) Journal
      The patents on Lego expired a few decades ago. They recently tried using trademark law as a work-around, by trademarking the arrangement of dots on the surface of their bricks, but it didn't stand up in court.
    • Re:Patents? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by sunderland56 ( 621843 ) on Monday January 15, 2007 @01:27PM (#17615646)
      Never mind the patents - Lego is a trademark. The Danish toy manufacturer very strongly defends that trademark.

      If you have silicon chips that fit together like little plastic children's toy blocks, that's perfectly fine. But if you mention the word Lego - even in internal company documents - you'll have a swarm of lawyers knocking at your door. (Yes, this has happened before).

      • But if you mention the word Lego - even in internal company documents
        Have to call this assertion into question (Yes, I used to work for them, at the old UK office in Wrexham). Sure, you might've got a light roasting if you didn't use the preferred LEGO capitalisation, but to suggest that staff could not mention the company's name in documents is absurd. Alternatively if you're telling the truth, it's a recent development and the company sounds in a sorry state.
  • Coooling (Score:5, Interesting)

    by LiquidCoooled ( 634315 ) on Monday January 15, 2007 @11:33AM (#17613934) Homepage Journal
    I hope the central portions of these chips have enough space to allow cooling to be achieved.

    If the stack is open, then could the cooling actually be better than a single over the top method.
    This could work like the fins inside double layered home radiators.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      <blockquote>I hope the central portions of these chips have enough space to allow cooling to be achieved.</blockquote>

      One could use special cooling-building blocks. These would even be placed right next to the most-heat producing parts of the overall system and enhance the overall cooling effect.
    • The type of space you're talking about needs to be in the range of mm for air to flow through easily, and seeing how this was in the range of tens of nanometers (10^-9), not a chance. in fact you'd have trouble trying to force much at all through that channel, even if you were to actively pump water through it you'd have issues (not to mention the possible galvanic problems).
  • Hell yeah! (Score:3, Funny)

    by qw0ntum ( 831414 ) on Monday January 15, 2007 @11:44AM (#17614080) Journal
    Now I can build little cities on my motherboard!
  • Low power components (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Calinous ( 985536 ) on Monday January 15, 2007 @11:46AM (#17614106)
    You could stack some low power components for this - while current performance microprocessors won't be made this way (too much power to dissipate), there are plenty of other microelectronics which uses power in the hundreds of milliwatts range. These, you could stack 10 high.
          Also, this could reduce the cost even more in the low cost market - instead of needing a PCB with soldered connections, just put all the components on top each other.
    • by arivanov ( 12034 )
      You can still do something like the Current Intel pseudo-4-core CPUs efficiently with this if you change the chip packaging. Cooling both top and bottom simultaneously may be able to compensate for the stacking of 2 layers. This will require complete redesign of the socket as we know it, but the gains may actually be worth it for some applications.
      • I think you would use water cooling before doing this two-sides cooling contraption (not that it isn't capable of working).
              As a side note, you could mount processors on both sides of the board, and use a hole in the middle of the PCB for the connection from one to the other (using some lego-like block)
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by stevesliva ( 648202 )

      while current performance microprocessors won't be made this way (too much power to dissipate), there are plenty of other microelectronics which uses power in the hundreds of milliwatts range. These, you could stack 10 high.

      Given that current Intel dice appear to be about 50% cache, it would be nice to be able to slice the cache off and put it under the processor. Might be able to make the access path from the different memory banks more symmetric. Or, since DRAM and flash processes are tailored diffe

  • "Silicon wafers covered with matching patterns of Lego-like teeth and holes." Great... we're adding teeth and holes to our future grey goo doomsday device.
    • Don't worry.. if it has holes, we can fill it.
      • by metlin ( 258108 ) *
        Don't worry.. if it has holes, we can fill it.

        I *shudder* to think of it. :-\

        Must clean mind's eye. ARGH!
        • Hah *shudders too* dirty mind you have there o_0
          • by metlin ( 258108 ) *
            Hey, I stop at organic life forms. Of the feminine human variety, I must add.

            Oooh, baby. Check out those transistors. Let me jingle my electron around your hole.

            Sorry, couldn't resist. =)
            • Two atoms are walking down the street.

              The first one stops suddenly and says, "DAMN! I think I lost an electron!"

              The seconds looks at him (quite concerned) and asks, "Gee man, are you sure?"

              "Yeah," says the first one, "I'm positive..."
  • You want to tell me that in 40 or 50 years of space travel nobody
    ever cut up a picture or used photoshop/gimp to apply existing ideas
    to next generation space ships?

    What i remeber from my Lego days is that i ended up with (what i
    personally think) a good desing, with all the wrong colours, but
    with about a gazillion of unused Lego blocks. And missing Lego
    blocks offcourse.

    just my 2 cts.
  • Is this cheap to do? What about capacity? Is it similar to the perpendicular discs theory that Toshiba brought to light a while ago? Could this be applied to storage solutions such as USB keys etc? Or is it more 'static electronics' such as DVD players?
  • "... this technique can make use of existing machinery."

    Oh, you mean like a modified version of this? [middlebury.edu]

  • What I want to know is why can't you have
    lego everything? House, furniture, computer.
    It could all fit together and be the ultimate
    in reconfigurability.
    Imagine using this for cubicles!!

    • I actually thought about having a house built out of Lego once. Then I realised walking on the floor barefoot would be really, really painful.
  • sure better configurations could be made by stacking, but there is a manufactoring benifit that would reduce the costs of making chips by a very large factor. From what i remember from a tour in national semi. I was told that on a waffer of silicon they would etch several hundred numebr of chips, of which a certin precentage of of chips will have a defect(which are detected by laser optical scanners), due to the qty of transisotrs they are trying to squeeze in a square inch. so if one transistor is bad they
    • Another benefit you failed to specify in your post is the use of a dictionary

    • by Manchot ( 847225 )
      I really doubt that chip manufacturers could decrease their costs doing what you're describing. The biggest problem is that every planar processing step is incredibly expensive. For one thing, the fabs themselves cost billions of dollars to construct, and it cost millions more to maintain a clean environment. Secondly, you're not going to find your typical factory worker in a fab: pretty much every worker there will have (at least) a bachelor's degree in electrical engineering or materials science. Basicall
  • I've been hearing 3D proposals since the 1980s, but not much has come to market. Even kludges like multiple 2D chips bonded together are more common.
    • Aside from the obvious cooling and interconnect problems (Google for "hairy smoking golfball"), testing and yield are sigificant obstacles. Testing the entire stack is much more difficult than testing an individual chip. Once you bond together a stack of chips, a flaw in any one of them means you have to throw away the whole stack.
  • Heathkit (Score:4, Interesting)

    by sharp-bang ( 311928 ) <sharp@bang@slashdot.gmail@com> on Monday January 15, 2007 @02:32PM (#17616614) Homepage
    When I was a lad, Heathkit marketed an educational analog circuit-building kit wherein the circuit elements (resistors, capacitors, transistors, etc.) were encased in Lego-like bricks and connected on a Lego-like board instead of a breadboard. It was great fun - my brother and I built every circuit in the book, and then some - but unfortunately the kit interoperated a little too well, using the exact same dot-matrix as real Legos. We could sanp real Legos right into the circuits. The kit came off the market very quickly and my understanding is that the settlement with Lego contributed to Heathkit's eventual demise. Oh well.

    (If anyone out there has the kit and wants to sell it, drop me a line.)
  • This work has been going on for a long time in the market, in so far as die stacking. The problem I see with this implementation is unequal heat growth will tear them apart. (on large surface area dies) maybe not in the 10 to 20 mill range, but thinking about large areas like processor size dies, this will be a problem.

A committee is a group that keeps the minutes and loses hours. -- Milton Berle