VERTICAL STACK of memory cells can store eight bits of information in the area usually allotted to just one bit. Such "3-d" microchips are set to dramatically reduce the cost of digital memory. Image: DAVID SCHARF
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The city of San Francisco stretches over 45 square miles--about twice the area of the island of Manhattan. Yet the economic output of Manhattan dwarfs that of San Francisco. A principal reason for the disparity is that offices in earthquake-prone California tend to spread their workers and machines close to ground level, whereas businesses in New York are stacked vertically into the skies. By building upward rather than outward, developers increase not only the value of their real estate but also the working power of the city as a whole.
An analogous strategy applied to the microscopic world of computer chips could rejuvenate a semiconductor industry that has recently begun to show signs of senescence. Surprisingly, of the more than 100 quadrillion transistors that Intel co-founder Gordon E. Moore estimates have been produced to date, nearly every one has been built on the "ground level," directly on the surface of silicon crystals. Engineers have accomplished a fantastically regular doubling of transistor density per microchip--we call it Moore's Law in the industry--simply by expanding the area of each chip and shrinking the size of each transistor. This is like building only shopping malls and no skyscrapers.
This article was originally published with the title A Vertical Leap for Microchips.