Best Processor Technology of 2011January 23, 2012
Author: Tom R. Halfhill
With a bumper crop of innovations to choose from, deciding which new microprocessor-related technology best deserves our Analysts’ Choice Award wasn’t easy. Our pick for 2011: the Hybrid Memory Cube, which stacks multiple DRAM chips inside a single package and connects the die with through-silicon vias (TSVs). Although engineers have been working for years on the concept of three-dimensional ICs, new developments in 2011 virtually guarantee that stacked-memory devices are finally on their way to commercial production in the near future.
Micron is pioneering the migration of this technology from the lab to the fab. The company designed both the DRAM stack and an integrated logic-layer chip that provides circuitry for low-level memory control. Intel defined a proprietary CPU-memory interface for the initial prototype that may appear in its own processors, and a new consortium is working on an industry-standard interface for other processors. (So far, the Hybrid Memory Cube Consortium includes Altera, IBM, Micron, Open-Silicon, Samsung, and Xilinx.)
Memory cubes promise greater density, lower latency, higher bandwidth, and better power efficiency per bit compared with conventional memories. Early benchmarks show a memory cube blasting data 12 times faster than DDR3-1333 SDRAM. Micron’s first-generation design stacks four DRAM die in one package but is merely a proof of concept. The first commercial devices, expected to sample in 2013, will stack eight die.
Other technologies we considered for this award are noteworthy, too. We nominated four candidates from Intel: tri-gate (FinFET) transistors, near-threshold voltage (NTV) transistors, the Thunderbolt I/O interface, and AVX2 extensions. In addition, we considered SuVolta’s PowerShrink technology and the merged CPU-DRAM architecture of Venray’s Tomi Borealis processor.