Improvement in the chip industry has long been defined by process shrinking. However, this is no longer the only path to generational gains and major performance leaps. South Korea’s SK Hynix has an unconventional outlook for the future of chip design as it eyes an “inevitable paradigm shift in the computing architecture” due to challenges with scaling.
According to several Korean news outlets, including JoongAng, SK Hynix plans to integrate logic and memory chips on the same die. While ambitious, the approach could yield a tremendous improvement in efficiency compared to today’s methods.
Today’s most advanced memory chips, including HBM3, are attached closely to a GPU so they can carry out logic operations. This looks like a highly inefficient approach at face value since data must be passed back and forth between numerous chips. Advanced packaging techniques like TSMC’s CoWoS have helped bridge the gap. However, the solution still isn’t perfect.
SK Hynix wants to shake up the industry with its next-gen HBM4 memory products. It reportedly intends to manufacture both the logic and memory chips on the same die with a 2048-bit interface. How SK Hynix plans to pull this off remains unknown and will likely remain highly secretive given its disruptive nature.
Thermal management is a serious challenge for this type of design given the high power consumption of both the memory and logic processors. According to experts, intense cooling methods will be needed to support the interface and could take several generations to perfect.
Notably, SK Hynix previously hired a significant number of logic design experts. The move was puzzling since its historical focus has been exclusive to memory chips. Now, though, the pieces are coming together.
Sources also claim SK Hynix is working closely with multiple fabless design companies to identify the ideal blueprint for its HBM4 products. Nvidia is among those in the conversation, though it remains unclear how many companies are involved. It’s possible SK Hynix will unveil a jointly designed chip with another leading chipmaker to not only speed up development but also decrease manufacturing times.
As the chip industry evolves, speed is more important than ever. From development to shipping next-gen hardware, chip designers are constantly on the lookout for ways to streamline their operations. Most advanced chips today rely on the expertise of multiple firms across the ecosystem for design, fabrication, and packaging. Eliminating steps in this process and decreasing reliance on third-party connections is an effective way to shorten the manufacturing-to-delivery timeline.
The HBM chip market is poised to skyrocket over the next few years thanks to intense demand from AI applications. Mordor Intelligence projects the market size to jump from today’s $2 billion to $6.32 billion by 2028 with a CAGR of 25.86%. With this in mind, firms that can accelerate the design and manufacturing process of next-gen chips have much to gain.
Ultimately, the design SK Hynix is pursuing has radical implications for the chip industry. A connected memory/logic interface would spark massive leaps in performance and efficiency, allowing for greater processing power and more efficient production. One day, the line between memory and logic semiconductors could be blurred so significantly that it no longer exists. While this likely remains several years away at the earliest, the industry must be ready for a major transformation when it arrives.