Continuing Moore’s Law: Advanced Packaging Enters the 3D Stacked CPU/GPU Era

2023-09-08 Semiconductors editor

As applications like AIGC, 8K, AR/MR, and others continue to develop, 3D IC stacking and heterogeneous integration of chiplet have become the primary solutions to meet future high-performance computing demands and extend Moore’s Law.

Major companies like TSMC and Intel have been expanding their investments in heterogeneous integration manufacturing and related research and development in recent years. Additionally, leading EDA company Cadence has taken the industry lead by introducing the “Integrity 3D-IC” platform, an integrated solution for design planning, realization, and system analysis simulation tools, marking a significant step towards 3D chip stacking.

Differences between 2.5D and 3D Packaging

The main difference between 2.5D and 3D packaging technologies lies in the stacking method. 2.5D packaging involves stacking chips one by one on an interposer or connecting them through silicon bridges, primarily used for assembling logic processing chips and high-bandwidth memory. On the other hand, 3D packaging is a technology that vertically stacks chips, mainly targeting high-performance logic chips and SoC manufacturing.

CPU and HBM Stacking Demands

With the rapid development of applications like AIGC, AR/VR, and 8K, it is expected that a significant amount of computational demand will arise, particularly driving the need for parallel computing systems capable of processing big data in a short time. To overcome the bandwidth limitations of DDR SDRAM and further enhance parallel computing performance, the industry has been increasingly adopting High-Bandwidth Memory (HBM). This trend has led to a shift from the traditional “CPU + memory (such as DDR4)” architecture to the “Chip + HBM stacking” 2.5D architecture. With continuous growth in computational demand, the future may see the integration of CPU, GPU, or SoC through 3D stacking.

3D Stacking with HBM Prevails, but CPU Stacking Lags Behind

HBM was introduced in 2013 as a 3D stacked architecture for high-performance SDRAM. Over time, the stacking of multiple layers of HBM has become widespread in packaging, while the stacking of CPUs/GPUs has not seen significant progress.

The main reasons for this disparity can be attributed to three factors: 1. Thermal conduction, 2. Thermal stress, and 3. IC design. First, 3D stacking has historically performed poorly in terms of thermal conduction, which is why it is primarily used in memory stacking, as memory operations generate much less heat than logic operations. As a result, the thermal conduction issues faced by current memory stacking products can be largely disregarded.

Second, thermal stress issues arise from the mismatch in coefficients of thermal expansion (CTE) between materials and the introduction of stress from thinning the chips and introducing metal layers. The complex stress distribution in stacked structures has a significant negative impact on product reliability.

Finally, IC design challenges from a lack of EDA tools, as traditional CAD tools are inadequate for handling 3D design rules. Developers must create their own tools to address process requirements, and the complex design of 3D packaging further increases the design, manufacturing, and testing costs.

How EDA Companies Offer Solutions

Cadence, during the LIVE Taiwan 2023 user annual conference, highlighted its years of effort in developing solutions. They have introduced tools like the Clarity 3D solver, Celsius thermal solver, and Sigrity Signal and Power Integrity, which can address thermal conduction and thermal stress simulation issues. When combined with Cadence’s comprehensive EDA tools, these offerings contribute to the growth of the “Integrity 3D-IC” platform, aiding in the development of 3D IC design.

“3D IC” represents a critical design trend in semiconductor development. However, it presents greater challenges and complexity than other projects. In addition to the challenges in Logic IC design, there is a need for analog and multi-physics simulations. Therefore, cross-platform design tools are indispensable. The tools provided by EDA leader Cadence are expected to strengthen the 3D IC design tool platform, reducing the technological barriers for stacking CPU, GPU, or SoC to enhance chip computing performance.

This article is from TechNews, a collaborative media partner of TrendForce.

(Photo credit: TSMC)