Two dies in one package: Teardown of a vintage ROM with double the storage


In 1971, semiconductor memory was still a new development so chips couldn't hold a lot of data. To double the storage capacity, IBM used the brute-force approach of putting two silicon dies into a 1-inch square package.1 The photo below shows a module with two face-down silicon dies, storing 4 kilobytes of data. In this blog post, I look inside this package, examine the dies, and explain how this ROM (read-only memory) was implemented. Although I expected the circuitry to be straightforward, the primitive MOS transistors of the time made the circuitry more complicated in several ways.

This IBM integrated circuit contains two silicon dies mounted on a ceramic substrate. Wiring printed on the substrate connects the dies to the pins underneath.

This IBM integrated circuit contains two silicon dies mounted on a ceramic substrate. Wiring printed on the substrate connects the dies to the pins underneath.

The photo below shows one of the silicon dies under the microscope. The white lines are the chip's metal layer, the wiring that connects the components together. The silicon underneath appears gray. Around the perimeter of the die, the dark circles are the solder balls that connect the die to the ceramic substrate. (Although other manufacturers typically attached tiny bond wires to pads on ICs, IBM soldered the die directly onto the substrate upside down in "flip-chip" style.) The solder balls provide the address lines, output data, and other connections. With 18 output connections, each die stores 1024 words of 18 bits: 9 on the left and 9 on the right. (18 bits may seem like a strange size, but it's a 16-bit word with a parity bit for each byte.2) The data is stored in a matrix of tiny transistors: 128 wide by 144 tall. This matrix is surrounded by the circuitry that selects a particular column and set of rows based on the address, outputting the desired 18 bits.

Die photo of one of the ROM dies. Click this image (or any other) for a larger version.

Die photo of one of the ROM dies. Click this image (or any other) for a larger version.

The integrated circuit is packaged in IBM's characteristic square metal can, below. These metal cans have their roots in the IBM System/360, a groundbreaking computer line introduced in 1964. Because IBM didn't consider the technology of integrated circuits to be mature enough at the time, IBM built these computers from hybrid modules called SLT (Solid Logic Technology). These thumbnail-sided modules consisted of individual transistors, diodes, and resistors encased in a square aluminum can. In 1968, IBM moved to integrated circuits (which they called Monolithic System Technology or MST), but kept the metal-can packaging. These packages gives vintage IBM boards a unique look, unlike the rectangular black epoxy integrated circuits used by most manufacturers.

The integrated circuit with the metal package, part number 5864741. The black clip next to the package holds the die, but I don't know if this was for shipping or during use.

The integrated circuit with the metal package, part number 5864741. The black clip next to the package holds the die, but I don't know if this was for shipping or during use.

To get inside the package, I removed the metal lid from the package with a hacksaw, exposing the two dies inside. To loosen the dies from the substrate, I used a butane torch to melt the solder connections.3 The photo below shows the dies next to the substrate. As you can see, the varnish on the substrate got a bit toasty during the removal process.

The ceramic substrate with the dies removed.

The ceramic substrate with the dies removed.

Looking at the substrate closely shows the complex wiring between the pins and the dies. The two chips are wired in parallel, with the substrate wiring connecting corresponding pins on the two dies. The exception is the three pins on the left side of each die near the bottom; they are wired separately to the two dies so one die can be selected.4 You can also see the tiny pads where the solder balls on the dies were attached.

This closeup of the substrate shows how the two dies are wired together, mostly in parallel, by wiring underneath the dies.

This closeup of the substrate shows how the two dies are wired together, mostly in parallel, by wiring underneath the dies.

Transistors in the chip

Next, I'll explain the construction of the chip, starting with the transistors that form its circuitry. The dies use metal-gate MOS transistors, an early type of MOS transistor that was largely replaced by silicon-gate transistors in the 1970s. The diagram below shows the construction of a metal-gate NMOS transistor. At the bottom, two regions of silicon (dark gray) are doped to make them conductive, forming the source and drain of the transistor. The gate is formed by a metal strip between the silicon regions, separated from the silicon by a thin layer of insulating oxide. (These layers—Metal, Oxide, Semiconductor—give the MOS transistor its name.) The transistor can be considered a switch between the source and drain, controlled by the gate. To simplify the behavior, the transistor turns on when the gate is pulled positive, and turns off when the gate is at 0 volts.5

Structure of a metal-gate MOSFET.

Structure of a metal-gate MOSFET.

In the closeup of the ROM below, you can see the individual bits. Each oval-shaped "bubble" is a transistor, representing a 1 bit. The vertical white stripes are the metal layer. The faint horizontal stripes are doped silicon. A "bubble" is formed by a thin spot in the oxide where the metal is close enough to the silicon to form a transistor gate. (Elsewhere, the thicker oxide layer separates the metal from the silicon so it doesn't have any effect.) These different layers were created by photolithography, projecting light through a patterned mask and then treating the silicon wafer with chemicals. The contents of the chip are fixed durin manufacturing and cannot be changed. Since the mask defines the contents of the ROM, it is called a "mask ROM".

A closeup of the ROM showing some of the bits.

A closeup of the ROM showing some of the bits.

The diagram below explains the structure of the ROM. Each vertical metal line selects a column of transistors; there are 128 vertical lines in total. The ovals indicate transistors: each transistor is between a power line and a bit output line, and its gate is formed by the metal column select line above it. To read the ROM, one column is activated by pulling it high (yellow). This turns on the transistors (red) in that column. An activated transistor connects the corresponding bit output line to power, pulling it high.

Diagram showing operation of the ROM matrix.

Diagram showing operation of the ROM matrix.

The matrix produces 144 bits of output on each side of the chip. To select the desired 9 bits, a circuit called a "16-to-1 multiplexer" selects one bit out of each group of 16. To summarize, part of the address fed into the chip is used to select a column, and part of the address is used to select the output bits. Together, the address selects one of the 1024 words stored on the die.

Construction of an inverter

Next, I'll explain some of the logic circuitry. An inverter is the simplest logic gate, used in several places in the chip. The diagram below shows how a basic inverter appears on the die. The metal wiring (white) covers the silicon underneath. The middle diagram shows the conductive silicon in blue, while the transistors are colored green. The inverter is formed from two transistors: a pull-up transistor and a transistor I'll call the inverter transistor. These transistors are controlled by the metal wiring on top of them, which forms the gate.

Implementation of an inverter. At the left is the inverter on the die (somewhat simplified).
The middle diagram shows doped silicon in blue, with the transistor channel in green.
The schematic on the right shows the wiring of the inverter.

Implementation of an inverter. At the left is the inverter on the die (somewhat simplified). The middle diagram shows doped silicon in blue, with the transistor channel in green. The schematic on the right shows the wiring of the inverter.

The diagram below shows how the inverter operates. When the input is low (left), the pull-up transistor provides a weak current to pull the output high. (Because the transistor is long and narrow, its current is weak.) When the input is high (right), the lower transistor turns on, connecting the output to ground, resulting in a 0 output. Since this circuit produces a 1 output for a 0 input and vice versa, it acts as an inverter.

Simplified diagram of an inverter. With a 0 input, the pull-up transistor pulls the output high. With a 1 input, the lower transistor pulls the output to ground.

Simplified diagram of an inverter. With a 0 input, the pull-up transistor pulls the output high. With a 1 input, the lower transistor pulls the output to ground.

This inverter doesn't perform very well because these early metal-gate transistors had difficulty pulling the output high. The problem is that the transistor produces an output voltage that is 4 volts lower than the gate voltage due to the properties of the transistor. Thus, if the inverter above is powered with 10 volts, the output voltage will be just 6 volts, not 10.

The solution was the "bootstrap load" shown below: adding a capacitor and a third transistor to the inverter.6 The capacitor acted as a charge pump, boosting the voltage across the gate and thus the output voltage. The circuit is a bit tricky, but I'll try to explain it. In the first panel, a 1 input turns on the lower transistor, producing a 0 output as before. However, the upper transistor will charge the capacitor with 6 volts, which will be important in the next step.

Illustration of how the bootstrap load works.

Illustration of how the bootstrap load works.

Next, suppose we input a 0 to the inverter (middle panel). The pull-up transistor on the right will pull the output to 6 volts, as in the simple inverter. But here's the trick: the capacitor was previously charged to 6 volts, so if we raise the lower side of the capacitor to 6 volts, the high side now rises to 12 volts (because of the 6 volts stored in the capacitor). With 12 volts on the gate, the output transistor can produce 8 volts of output. This extra 2 volts will raise the capacitor even higher, giving more output voltage. This feedback loop continues, until the capacitor reaches 16 volts and the output reaches 10 volts. (The output can't get any higher than the 10 volts supplied to the transistor.) Thus, the output transistor has "pulled itself up by its bootstraps", reaching a nice 10-volt output, rather than the weak 6-volt output from the simpler inverter.

The diagram below shows an inverter on the die, with 5 transistors and a capacitor. This inverter has a bootstrap load, along with two output transistors to boost the current.7 The capacitor is constructed from a large region of metal over silicon: the metal and silicon form the two plates of the capacitor and hold the charge. Note the large size of the capacitor compared to the transistors. This diagram illustrates that even an inverter required a lot of circuitry when using the primitive transistors of 1971.

An inverter, built from 5 transistors and a capacitor.

An inverter, built from 5 transistors and a capacitor.

Column address decoding

The next circuit I'll describe is the address decoder, which selects the desired column of the ROM based on the input address. Specifically, 6 bits of the address are used to select one of 64 columns. The decoder takes up a fair amount of area on the die, with half the decoder above the ROM matrix and half below. The interesting thing about the decoder is that you can see its binary structure, with two rows of transistors that alternate, then two rows that alternate in groups of 2, groups of 4, and so on.8

Part of the column decoding circuitry. Ground lines are colored blue and output lines are colored green.

Part of the column decoding circuitry. Ground lines are colored blue and output lines are colored green.

Each vertical green line above is one decoder output, corresponding to one particular address. Electrically, each decoder line is wired as a NOR gate: if the line to any transistor is high, the transistor turns on, connecting that output line (green) to ground (blue), pulling it low. If all the corresponding address lines are low, the transistors will remain off, and that column will be activated. Each column of the decoder matches one address bit pattern, so each address selects the desired column.

Each horizontal line (and complement) that are fed into the decoder are driven from one of the address inputs. Next to each address input is the circuit below that drives these lines, as shown below. I won't go into details, but it's essentially a latch driven by the address input, outputting the value and its complement.

The circuitry for each address input.

The circuitry for each address input.

Row multiplexer circuit

While you might expect each column of the ROM to store one word, the result would be a very tall and skinny ROM that wouldn't fit on the IC die. Instead, each column of the ROM holds 16 words, making the ROM a more efficient rectangle. These 16 words are grouped by bit: the 16 values for bit 0 at the top, followed by the 16 values for bit 1, and so forth. Each output bit has a multiplexer circuit that selects one of these 16 values based on four bits of the address.

Each multiplexer circuit consists of 16 transistors, shown below: one row-select line is activated, turning on the appropriate transistor and connecting that ROM line to the multiplexer output, and thus the output pin. (The row select lines come from a decoder circuit similar to the column address decoder described earlier.) The output driver circuit amplifies the ROM output. Note the large output transistor below the solder ball. Its multiple vertical stripes are multiple gates, allowing it to produce more current for the external signal.

Diagram showing the multiplexer and output circuit.

Diagram showing the multiplexer and output circuit.

The substrate bias generator

To improve the performance of the transistors, many chips applied a negative "bias" voltage to the silicon die's substrate. The straightforward way to obtain this bias voltage was through an external pin, but this inconveniently required an additional power supply. The IBM ROM chip, instead, has a circuit to generate the negative bias voltage internally, avoiding the extra power supply.9

This substrate bias generator circuit uses a charge pump to create the negative bias voltage from the positive supply voltage, which is a neat trick. The idea is to "pump" electric charge in and out of a capacitor, analogous to a water pump, making the substrate negative. First, the capacitor is charged with 10 volts. Next, the upper side of the capacitor is grounded to 0 volts. Since the capacitor still holds a charge of 10 volts, the lower side of the capacitor must be at -10 volts, producing the desired negative voltage. This cycle is repeated at high speed, driven by an oscillator.

Operation of the charge pump. By grounding alternate sides of the capacitor, a negative voltage is created.

Operation of the charge pump. By grounding alternate sides of the capacitor, a negative voltage is created.

In more detail, the diagram above shows the charge pump driven by a pulse signal and its complement. In the first stage, the two smaller transistors are turned on, charging the capacitor to +10 volts. In the second state, the large lower transistor is turned on, grounding the left side of the capacitor. This forces the right side of the capacitor to -10 volts, pulling the substrate negative. The diode prevents current from flowing back into the substrate during the first stage.

The circuitry that drives the charge pump is shown below. Five inverters are connected into a ring, forming a ring oscillator. If the first inverter has a 1 input, it outputs a 0, so the second outputs a 1, and so forth, until the final inverter outputs a 0. This goes back into the first inverter, flipping its output to 1, and so forth, until the final inverter flips to a 1 output. The process repeats, causing an oscillation. The pulse generator circuit uses these oscillations to drive the charge pump. It also takes a feedback signal from the substrate, stopping the charge pump when the substrate is sufficiently negative.

The circuitry that drives the charge pump.

The circuitry that drives the charge pump.

The diagram below shows how the substrate bias generator is implemented on the die. The five inverters are on the right, while the charge pump circuitry is on the left. (These inverters are implemented using the inverter circuit described earlier.) The large capacitor, transistor, and diode for the charge pump are the most visible features.

A closeup of the substrate bias circuitry. It is in the lower-right corner of the die.

A closeup of the substrate bias circuitry. It is in the lower-right corner of the die.

Optional circuitry

One interesting characteristic of the chip is that some transistors are not implemented and some wiring connections are omitted. older chips?)

In the diagram below, the metal wire on the left has a contact with the silicon, but the metal wire on the right doesn't have a contact; it just overlaps. With a small change to the mask during manufacturing, the contact can be switched to the other wire. This swaps the function of the two inputs in the upper right corner of the chip, strobe and address. (I'm not sure why this is useful, though. Maybe backward compatibility with two different chips?)

A closeup of contacts that allow the wiring to be customized.

A closeup of contacts that allow the wiring to be customized.

To support that functionality swap, the chip also has unimplemented transistors, as shown below. The upper block has the "bubbles" that indicate working gates. The lower block has the silicon and metal layout of a transistor, but without the gates this circuitry is inert. With a small mask change, the chip can be manufactured with transistors in the lower block and the upper block unused. The point is that the chip was designed so different versions of the chip could easily be manufactured.

Transistors and omitted transistors. The upper rectangular block consists of transistors, while the lower rectangular block has no function.

Transistors and omitted transistors. The upper rectangular block consists of transistors, while the lower rectangular block has no function.

Conclusion

The 1970s were a time of great change for integrated circuits. Chips based on MOS transistors were rapidly growing in capability, leading to the rise of microprocessors, semiconductor storage, and other applications. But in 1971, the performance of these transistors was still limited, requiring inconvenient workarounds such as capacitors for bootstrap loads. The density of chips was also limited, causing IBM to put multiple dies in one package to store enough data.

Looking at this package, both dies are the same, except for the data stored on them. The photo below shows the other die that was in the package. The black globs are some sort of varnish that covered the dies and leaked in around the edges. I couldn't find anything that dissolved the varnish, so I ended up tediously chipping it off under a microscope. (This is why the cleaned die photo at the beginning of the post has some scratches.)

The second ROM die in the package. This photo shows the die after removal from the substrate, with varnish around the edges. Click for full size.

The second ROM die in the package. This photo shows the die after removal from the substrate, with varnish around the edges. Click for full size.

What does the ROM hold? Unfortunately, I don't know. I'm told that it comes from some type of IBM printer so it's probably some sort of interface firmware.

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Notes and references