The Future Of Computer Processors Could Be Spherical

July 22, 1998

The End Of The Chip?

The silicon chip may be no more if one American company has its way. Ball Semiconductor Inc (BSI) believes that in the future, silicon circuits will be spherical.

Microchips got their name because they are "chipped" off a flat silicon wafer upon which circuits have been etched. But wafer processing is slow and expensive, says BSI. Instead, it says it is close to making computer processors in the form of silicon spheres.

The company claims to have used conventional lithography to etch diodes onto the surface of a silicon sphere 1 millimetre in diameter. It is now working on ways to speed up and refine the production process. The company, which has already raised $52 million in financing, claims that it should be able to build a production line for $100 million-a tenth of the cost of a conventional chip plant.

Ram Ramamurthi, vice-president of R&D at BSI, which is based near Dallas, Texas, says that the company will be able to make processors so cheaply because its production method assimilates the different processes involved, eliminating the need for vast clean rooms. Keeping a production line free from the microscopic dirt particles that can cripple chips is a very costly business, he says. Instead, BSI wants to do everything-from making the silicon spheres to packaging the circuits-in one continuous process. It hopes to be able to produce ball circuits in days rather than the weeks it typically takes to make chips.

In place of clean rooms, BSI is proposing to process the spheres in hermetically sealed quartz tubes 2 millimetres wide. The spheres will be shuttled through the various steps of the production process along these tubes. This technique could not be used for chips. The balls emerge only when the circuits are being etched.

Author : Mark Ward


New Scientist

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