Professor Melvin Breuer holds a tray of defective chips, part of a batch of 1000 donated by a manufacturer. The specially configured computer behind him allows the chips to be use-tested without being soldered into a board. Breuer is devising new test algorithms that will be able to identify potentially usable defective chips accurately.
Flawed Hardware Can Function Well in Many Applications, USC Researchers Find
Computer chip manufacturers traditionally have had a single, simple standard for their product: perfection. But a USC engineer who has spent his career devising ways to have chips test themselves has found that less than perfect is sometimes good enough — possibly good enough to save billions of dollars. "Chips with any flaws at all have always been discarded," said Melvin A. Breuer, a professor in the University of Southern California Viterbi School of Engineering’s Department of Electrical Engineering. "And this significantly increases the cost for the good ones."
When manufacturers start making a complex chip, a very large percentage are faulty, Breuer explained. The percentage goes down as manufacturing techniques improve, he added, but "by the time the technique is thoroughly mastered, the chip is on its way to being obsolete." Some chip designers try to cut the losses by designing redundancy into the circuits, so that when circuitry fails, other circuitry can take its place. Even with these measures (and they have costs), large numbers of chips wind up as extremely expensive industrial waste.
Eric Mankin | EurekAlert!
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