CHIBA, Japan–BiCS. It’s the acronym that could extend Moore’s Law.

BiCS, which stands for Bit Cost Memory, is a three-dimensional flash memory chip developed by Toshiba in which transistors can be stacked vertically. Stacking vertically, ideally, will allow engineers to continue to add more transistors to a chip at a steady pace, which in turn means continual, steady improvement in electronics. Cost goes down, performance goes up, and everyone can continue to sell new products to willing customers.

Yellow is silicon and green is the gate in this BiCS model of stacked transistors.

(Credit: Michael Kanellos/CNET

The company has created working samples and discussed the technology at academic conferences, but is showing the concept for the first time to the broader public at Ceatec Japan 2007, the tech trade show taking place here this week.

The key is that the chip is rewritable: data can be inserted and erased, as it can on regular flash memory chips. Matrix Semiconductor, which was bought by SanDisk in 2005, has a 3D chip, but the memory cells aren’t rewritable. Whatever data is inserted the first time stays there forever.

The model pictured here helps explain how it works. The green layers are silicon gates. The empty spaces are sources and drains (the output terminals). The presence or absence of electrons going from the source to the drain are registered as ones and zeros and form the basis of computer data.

Those long, thin yellow poles are silicon piers. The piers control the flow of electrons. In a standard transistor, the surface area that connects the gate (the input terminal) and the silicon (which controls the flow of electrons) is relatively limited. Here, the entire circumference of the junction between the pier and the gate is used, increasing the surface area that connects the gate and the silicon and thereby improving performance.

The idea is similar to the tri-gate transistor and fin-fet transistors developed in labs by, respectively, Intel and IBM.

The BiCS prototype made by Toshiba.

(Credit: Michael Kanellos/CNET

Toshiba has made samples on the 90-nanometer process.

And what else did Toshiba, which probably had the most comprehensive booth at the show, show off? The SpursEngine, a chip based on the Cell processor architecture.

These are smaller versions of the chips found inside the PlayStation 3. Rather than having eight identical cores for processing data streams, the SpursEngine has four. The idea behind the chip is that it can serve as a co-processor inside PCs, accelerating graphics, letting the computer conduct searches via images in pictures, etc.

Toshiba also showed off a working mini-TV with an integrated fuel cell. The TV operates 10 hours on a dose of methanol. In the past, the fuel cell has been an add-on appendage.

The company has committed to coming out with a fuel-cell-based product. The first one may come in the next year or two, a company spokesman said.

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