Editor's Blog

Editor's Blog

New Wii U™ on SOI

Posted by on July 5, 2011
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Nintendo’s next high-profile, high-volume CPU will leverage IBM’s 45nm SOI  for performance, power and eDRAM.

If you’ve followed the ASN “Buzz” in recent weeks, you’ve seen the news: the CPU for Nintendo’s upcoming (and very cool) Wii U is on 45nm SOI.

IBM’s been fabbing chips for Nintendo for over a decade, and first moved the company’s CPUs to SOI in 2006, at 90nm.  The Wii U, which got its debut at the recent E3 show, will hit the shelves in 2012.

While the new touch-screen remote gets a lot of attention, it is in fact the CPU in the box that does the heavy lifting.  The Wii U combines motion-sensing game play with full HD graphics. Players can use the new controller plus four more controllers simultaneously. The system is backward compatible for all games and accessories.

IBM says that the all-new, Power-based Wii U CPU will pack in some of its most advanced technology into an energy-saving silicon package.  The inherent advantages of SOI, explains the company’s press release, make it “a superior choice for performance-driven applications that demand exceptional, power-efficient processing capability – from entertainment consoles to supercomputers”.

Yes, Power-based Watson and the Wii U both use IBM’s small, stable and power-efficient on-chip embedded DRAM (eDRAM) on SOI, which is capable of feeding multi-core processors large chunks of data.  In the case of next-gen game consoles like the Wii U, that provides a smooth entertainment experience.

A few year ago, IBM first demonstrated the advantages – both in terms of technology and cost – of putting eDRAM on SOI.  Here at ASN, we were fortunate at the time to have IBM Fellow and eDRAM guru Subramanian S. Iyer explained the advantages of SOI.

As Dr. Iyer wrote in ASN in 2006, “The complexity adder is about half in SOI compared to bulk for deep trench based eDRAMs. […] We expect the use of eDRAM to proliferate to SOI in the 45nm generation.”

And here it is in the Wii U, right on target.

Cross section of IBM 45nm SOI eDRAM trench cell, circa 2006. The buried oxide is used to completely isolate the capacitor plate from the device. (Courtesy: IBM)

In a press release last fall, IBM said its “…embedded DRAM technology provides the most dense on-chip dynamic memory available today, enabling more than 1Gb of memory on a single chip. IBM eDRAM performance has advanced to a point where it can replace conventional on-chip static memory (SRAM) in many applications, taking up 60% less space on the chip, and consuming up to 90% less power.”

For the current Wii, IBM has shipped more than 90 million chips. The company’s looking for a repeat performance with the Wii U chips, which will also be produced at its 300mm fab in East Fishkill, N.Y.