Liquid silicon: Multi-duty computer chips could bridge the gap between computation and storage

ScienceDaily | 11/17/2016 | Staff
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Jing Li, an assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at UW-Madison, is creating computer chips that can be configured to perform complex calculations and store massive amounts of information within the same integrated unit -- and communicate efficiently with other chips. She calls them "liquid silicon."

"Liquid means software and silicon means hardware. It is a collaborative software/hardware technique," says Li. "You can have a supercomputer in a box if you want. We want to target a lot of very interesting and data-intensive applications, including facial or voice recognition, natural language processing, and graph analytics."

Number-crunching - Processors - Data - Warehousing - Storage

The high-speed number-crunching of processors and the data warehousing of big storage memory in modern computers usually fall to two entirely different types of hardware.

"There's a huge bottleneck when classical computers need to move data between memory and processor," says Li. "We're building a unified hardware that can bridge the gap between computation and storage."

Processor - Memory - Chips - Manufacturing - Foundries

Processor and memory chips are typically separately produced by different manufacturing foundries, then assembled together by system engineers on printed circuit boards to make computers and smartphones. The separation means even simple operations, like searches, require multiple steps to accomplish: first fetching data from the memory, then sending that data all the way through the deep storage hierarchy to the processor core.

The chips Li is developing, by contrast, incorporate memory, computation and communication into the same device using a layered design called monolithic 3D integration: silicon and semiconductor circuitry on the bottom connected with solid-state memory arrays on the top using dense metal-to-metal links. End users will be able to configure the devices to allocate more or...
(Excerpt) Read more at: ScienceDaily
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