unveils first chip
|By MARY FAGAN,
THE electronics industry has moved one step nearer to wafer scale integration (WSI), which involves replacing entire circuit boards of components with silicon wafers on which all the circuits and their connections have been printed.
At a New York conference, Anamartic, the chip company that grew Out of Sir Clive Sinclair's empire, yesterday unveiled the first working computer memory chip based on WSI technology.
The memories are expected to pack about 200 million bits (Mbits) of information on one six- inch silcon wafer, although the actual working memory will be rather less.
In comparison, today's computers rely on memory chips based on traditional technology holding only 1 million bits of data.
Currently, individual chips are written on wafers which are chopped up, individually packaged, mounted on a printed circuit board and linked together. This increases overheads in terms of space, and the time it takes for one chip to talk to another.
Wafer scale integration does away with chopping up and packaging. It offers the possibility of much speedier communications between chips, and packs many more devices into a given space.
The problem is that not all the chips on a wafer will work, so it requires sophisticated software to test each one, and if it is good, link it to the next one and test that. The result is a chain of working chips.
In spite of cynics who believe that WSI chips will be far too difficult to produce in volume, Anamartic has built up an awesome army of support. The Japanese giant, Fujitsu, already one of the world's leading memory chip manufacturers, is to make the wafer scale devices. Tandem, the US company that is an acknowledged leader in fault- tolerant computers, is to be the first customer.
Both Tandem and Fujitsu have a stake in Anamartic, which was set up three years ago by Sinclair Research to pursue the wafer scale idea.
Other shareholders include Barclays, venture capital companies including Advent, and the Franco-Italian electronics company, SGS Thomson. Sir Clive retains a 22 per cent stake.
The first use for the technology is likely to be memory devices built from stacks of wafers. But if volume manufacturing is successful, Anamartic is expected to move on to WSI with both microprocessor and memory.