The Coming Age of 3D Integrated Circuits

The pedagogical model of the integrated circuit goes something like this: take a silicone wafer, etch out a few wells, dope some of the silicon with phosphorous, mask some of the chip off, dope some more silicon with boron, and lay down some metal in between everything. That’s an extraordinarily basic model of how the modern semiconductor plant works, but it’s not terribly inaccurate. The conclusion anyone would make after learning this is that chips are inherently three-dimensional devices. But the layers are exceedingly small, and the overall thickness of the active layers of a chip are thinner than a human hair. A bit of study and thought and you’ll realize the structure of an integrated circuit really isn’t in three dimensions.

Recently, rumors and educated guesses coming from silicon insiders have pointed towards true three-dimensional chips as the future of the industry. These chips aren’t a few layers thick like the example above. Instead of just a few dozen layers, 100 or more layers of transistors will be crammed into a single piece of silicon. The reasons for this transition range from shortening the distance signals must travel, reducing resistance (and therefore heat), and optimizing performance and power in a single design.

The ideas that are influencing the current generation of three-dimensional chips aren’t new; these concepts have been around since the beginnings of the semiconductor industry. What is new is how these devices will eventually make it to market, the challenges currently being faced at Intel and other semiconductor companies, and what it will mean for a generation of chips several years down the road.

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A Wireless Wood Stove Monitor

[Michel] has a wood stove in his basement for extra heat in the winter. While this is a nice secondary heat source, he has creosote buildup in the chimney to worry about. [Michel] knows that by carefully monitoring the temperature of the gases in the chimney, he can hit the sweet spot where his fire burns hot enough to keep the creosote under control and cool enough that it doesn’t burn down the house. To that end, he built a wireless wood stove monitor.

The first version he built involved an annoying 20 foot run between the basement and living room. Also, the thermocouple was mounted on the surface and made poor contact with the chimney. Wood Stove Monitor 2.0 uses a probe thermometer on an Exhaust Gas Temperature (EGT) thermocouple to measure the temperatures. The intel is fed to a thermocouple amplifier to provide a cold-compensation reference. This is shielded so that radiant heat from the stove doesn’t compromise the readings. An nRF24L01+ in the basement monitoring station communicates with another module sitting in the living room display so [Michel] can easily find out what’s going on downstairs. When it’s all said and done, this monitor will be part of a bigger project to monitor power all over the house.

Interested in using a wood stove to help heat your house? Why not build your own?

Thermaltake Gets On The 3D Printing Bandwagon

We’re interested by a move from Thermaltake, a manufacturer of computer cases, fans, and power supplies. Thermaltake has released a computer case designed to be modded by those with a 3D printer. They released a set of models that fits the new case. These are all hosted on a service much like Thingiverse. So if you want a single SSD or a whole rack, print the model. Watercooling? There’s a model for that. In concept, it’s very cool.

We’re not certain how to feel about this. Our initial impression was that if Thermaltake is going to launch a case around 3D printing, they should at lease tune their printer and get some nice prints before they take the press photos. On our second pass we became intrigued. Is this a manufacturer cutting costs, crowd-sourcing design and engineering talent for free, or empowering the user? Arguably, a computer case is a great test bed for this kind of interaction.

Despite out skepticism, we’d like to see more manufacturers take this kind of contributing interest in 3d printing. If only to see where it goes. What other products do you think would benefit from this kind of, print the product you actually want model?