Energy has become one the biggest problems today's computing systems face. Already, many transistors in today's multicore processors and systems on chips (SoCs) exist as dark silicon: they go unused for long periods because of the risk of the entire chip overheating when switched on. The problem is set to increase as engineers move to three-dimensional integration: stacking layers of logic transistors on top of each other in order to overcome the problems of two-dimensional (2D) scaling, which the IEEE International Roadmap for Devices and Systems predicts will slow to almost a complete halt within a decade. Circuitry in the inner layers runs even higher risks of overheating.
"If you want to do real 3D (three-dimensional) integration right now, you get one logic layer and that's it, because you just can't get the heat out," says Gregory Snider, a professor of electrical engineering at the University of Notre Dame.
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