Friday, April 13, 2007

IBM Develops Chip-Stacking Technique

IBM has found a way to connect chips inside products ranging from cell phones to supercomputers, an advance that promises to prolong battery life in wireless devices and eventually speed data transfers between the processor and memory chips in computers, the company said Thursday.

The manufacturing technique outlined by IBM Corp. eliminates the long metal wires that are currently used to transfer information and electrical charge between chips.

The memory and processor chips are often spaced inches apart from each other, causing a lag in transmission as chipmakers multiply the number and voracity of calculating cores on their processors.

Slowdowns crop up when data-hungry processors cannot retrieve information fast enough from memory to perform their increasingly complex functions.

In IBM's solution, two chips are sandwiched on top of one another _ the distance between them measured in microns, or millionths of a meter _ and held together by vertical connections that are etched in silicon holes that are filled with metal.

The vertical connections are referred to as 'through-silicon-vias,' which allow multiple chips to be stacked together with greater information flow between them. IBM said its three-dimensional approach creates the possibility of up to 100 times more pathways for information, and shortens by 1,000 times the distance that information on a chip needs to travel.

'This is a big step, this is a really historic move,' said David Lammers, director of, a social networking Web site for semiconductor enthusiasts and part of VLSI Research Inc. 'This has been studied to death, but it's the first time a company is saying, 'We can connect two chips in the vertical direction.''

While it has the most promise for use in computers, IBM's technology will initially be used in wireless communications chips when production begins next year. Stacked chips are already used in cell phones, but IBM's technology eliminates the need for wires wrapped around the outside of the chips.

The company said it could have memory-on-processor technology by 2009 for use in servers, supercomputers and other machines.

'We are continuing to innovate _ now we have a new degree of freedom to get more functionality out of chips,' said Lisa Su, vice president for semiconductor research and development at IBM.

Stacking chips three-dimensionally can become problematic because of the intricacy of etching holes directly into the silicon, and because processors kick off so much heat, they can disrupt the normal functioning of the memory when attached so closely to it, according to analysts and IBM competitors.

Intel Corp., the world's largest semiconductor company, used a similar three-dimensional structure in a research processor demonstrated in February that can perform about a trillion calculations per second. Such a computer chip can perform calculations as quickly an entire data center while consuming as much energy as a light bulb.

However, Jerry Bautista, director of technology management for Intel's Microprocessor Technology Lab, said such an approach is 'much more aggressive and risky' for production on a wide scale than simply moving the processor and the memory chip extremely close to each other. He said the Santa Clara-based company is still researching its options and has not publicly said when it might make such a technology available.

'We have a view that while 3-D stacking is very elegant, it's not for the faint of heart,' Bautista said. 'You better think hard about how you do it, because it's not a slam dunk.'

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Saturday, March 31, 2007

IBM helps blind 'see' web video

Technology giant, IBM, is soon to launch a multimedia browser to make audio and video content accessible to people with vision impairments.

Codenamed the Accessibility Browser - or A-Browser - the software was created by a blind employee in Japan.

The A-Browser will give blind and partially-sighted people the same control over multimedia content that sighted people have using a mouse.

IBM says it will be available later this year and hopes it will be free.

The A-Browser is the creation of Dr Chieko Asakawa, a blind employee at IBM's research laboratory in Tokyo.

Dr Asakawa was becoming increasingly frustrated by the amount of web content that she was unable to access.

For the time being, she and her team are concentrating on content that is compatible with Real Player and Windows Media Player.


Screen readers and self-talking browsers are not able to deal with video and animation, some of which starts playing as soon as a page is loaded.

This often interferes with the synthesised speech output from the screen-reader software.

Using the A-Browser, a vision-impaired person can control media content by using predefined shortcut keys, rather than having to look for the control buttons using a mouse.

The browser also allows video to be slowed down, speeded up and can accommodate an additional audio description or narration track that is often included to make films and television programmes more comprehensible to blind people.

The volume controls also allow the user to adjust the sound of various sources independently - for example the main audio track, an audio description track and output from a screen reader.

"We're beginning to look at accessibility as a very important business area," said Frances West, director of IBM's Human Ability and Accessibility Centre.

"This is not just from a social responsibility standpoint, but with ageing baby-boomers we think that such technology could really benefit the population in general because all of us will be on this ageing journey."

The company plans to "open source" its new accessibility software in order to make it available to the largest possible number of people.

It is estimated that there are more than 160m blind and partially-sighted people around the world who could benefit from such a development.

IBM has not yet decided whether the A-Browser will have a worldwide launch or whether it will be introduced in selected countries first.

Monday, March 26, 2007


A laptop computer, or simply laptop (also notebook computer or notebook), is a small mobile computer, which usually weighs 2.2-18 pounds (1-6 kilograms), depending on size, materials, and other factors.
While the terms laptop and notebook are often used interchangeably, "laptop" is the older term, introduced in 1983 with the
Gavilan SC. "Notebook computer" is a later coinage, which was used to differentiate smaller devices such as those of the NEC UltraLite and Compaq LTE series in 1989, which were, in contrast to previous laptops, the approximate size of an A4 or letter size paper sheet.[1] The terms are imprecise: due to heat and other issues, many laptops are inappropriate for use on one's lap, and most notebooks are not the size of typical letter or A4 paper notebook. Although some older portable computers, such as the Macintosh Portable and certain Zenith TurbosPort models, were sometimes described as "laptops", their size and weight were too great for this category.
As of 2007, most manufacturers use the term "notebook" (or some variant thereof) for what most end-users call a "laptop".
Laptops usually run on a single
battery or from an external AC/DC adapter which can charge the battery while also supplying power to the computer itself.
As personal computers, laptops are capable of the same tasks as a desktop PC, although they are typically less powerful for the same price. They contain components that are similar to their desktop counterparts and perform the same functions, but are
miniaturized and optimized for mobile use and efficient power consumption. Laptops usually have liquid crystal displays and most of them use different memory modules for their random access memory (RAM), for instance, SO-DIMM in lieu of the larger DIMMs. In addition to a built-in keyboard, they may utilize a touchpad (also known as a trackpad) or a pointing stick for input, though an external keyboard or mouse can usually be attached.
Many schools have taken in laptop based programs in which every student receives a laptop for school use only. The operating system is configured (or a third party program is installed) to limit the student's access to perform administrative tasks such as hardware or software installation, or operating system modifications. Students are generally permitted to use these systems to take notes, write papers, and perform other school-related activities.