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What’s So Great About 3D Microchips?

Sunday, February 10th, 2013 by | Filed Under: I've Always Wanted To Know...

I’ve Always Wanted To Know:

What’s so great about 3D microchips? Why is it any better then the current 2D production method?


Microchips currently are made using a two dimensional (2D) process which means that circuits are all laid out on a single level of the chip. This produces chips that have a physical size equal to their width times their length. This often will be expressed in square millimeters or mm2.  The more space you have to put transistors on a chip, the more powerful or the chip can be. The latest desktop processors by Intel, the i7 Ivy Bridge models, have a size of 160 mm2.

If microchips could be designed in three dimensions instead of just two, then you could build levels on top of each other. Think of this like a house which has one level of 1000 square feet. If you add another level the same size, you would have a 2000 square foot house on the same 40 x 50 foot piece of land. If you took a processor with 160mm2 of space and built it using 3D technology with five levels, you would have the equivalent space of five processors.  

So why didn’t they just do this in the first place? Three dimensional chips have two major problems to overcome.  First, controlling electrons to allow them to move in three dimensions. This has been recently demonstrated using lasers and special new circuit designs, but is still in very early stages of development. University of Cambridge recently demonstrated a working 3D microchip design.  The second major problem is dealing with the immense heat that is created by processors. The heat from the outermost layer would be easy to remove, but the heat from the inner core would build up and damage the processor.

Will we see processors manufactured in 3D in next year’s computer? No. This technology is still years, if not decades from mass production. If you are impressed by a quad core desktop, imagine what a 64 core desktop printed on eight 3D levels could do.


Do you have a general technology or electronics question you always wanted to know like “How does a Microwave work?” or “Why do LED’s last so long?” Write me at and your question may be answered in an upcoming “I Always Wanted To Know.” For specific computer support questions ask our writers by clicking here.

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One Response to “What’s So Great About 3D Microchips?”

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