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NC State Launches Work on More Efficient Computers Using 3DIC Technology

North Carolina State University researchers are launching an initiative to develop a computer that utilizes three-dimensional integrated chip (3DIC) technology and is significantly more energy efficient than anything else on the market today. The work is supported by $1 million in funding as Phase 1 of a negotiated $4 million cooperative agreement contract with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).

“Computers are becoming faster and able to tackle more complex challenges, but they are also consuming larger amounts of electrical power,” says Dr. Paul Franzon, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at NC State and lead researcher under the DARPA cooperative agreement. “For example, the amount of computing power in unmanned vehicles is limited by the power supply they can carry.”

To address that challenge, the NC State research team is tasked with designing a multiprocessor computer system that has a computing-to-power ratio of 75 gigaflops per watt. That means the system must be able to process 75 billion floating point operations per second for every watt of power used. By contrast, the most efficient processors currently on the market have a computing-to-power ratio of 16 gigaflops per watt.

“We plan to use 3DIC technology and heterogeneous computing techniques to develop what will essentially be a highly-efficient multiprocessor that would fit in a matchbox,” Franzon says.

Franzon is the primary investigator (PI) under the cooperative agreement, which has negotiated options through 2017. The co-PIs, all of whom are also on faculty at NC State, are: Dr. Eric Rotenberg, professor of electrical and computer engineering; Dr. Rhett Davis, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering; Dr. James Tuck, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering; and Dr. Huiyang Zhou, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering.