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Deeper Dive – Dec. 05

Thursday, December 5th, 2013

By Caroline Hayes, Senior Editor

The twists and turns of FinFET

In an earlier Deeper Dive (Nov. 21) we looked at how TSMC’s 16nm FinFET reference design was encouraging harmony among teams, as they work together to verify designs and accommodate the three dimensional transistor structure. In this edition, members of the design community are asked about new challenges 16nm FinFET raises, such as double patterning and IP validation.

There are three key challenges for EDA tools, posed by 16nm FinFET, says Cadence’s Steve Carlson, director of marketing. Talking about the increased net resistance of wire delays, he is despondent, saying “Wire delays have been dominated by increased net resistance, and at 16nm, it’s only getting exponentially worse,” he begins. There are also new challenges, he continues, identifying pin access as a new critical design closure metric. There is a conundrum in the solution. “Double patterning techniques, critical to ultra-deep submicron fabrication – are leveraged to get the maximum possible density of tracks in lower metal layers,” he reasons, “But this makes it harder to undertake graceful via spacing and via cuts.”

On the extraction front, the challenges are to extend FinFET RC parasitic models to be closer to those extracted using a field solver, he continues, but the list does not end there. He also points out the analog waveform effects, due to extremely low VDD can cause problems for designers to achieve accurate timing and design closure. “There are new challenges for physical design and verification due to double patterning,” he adds, warming to the theme. He warns that the number of design rules are “exploding exponentially, as well as the number of parasitics”. For layout designers and manufacturing engineers this causes problems regarding DFM (design for manufacturing). He explains “Double patterning and FinFET devices affect several areas of signoff, including extracting, DFM and timing. It requires additional DFM lithography checks and planarization checks,” he concludes.

The list of challenges may be formidable, but it is not all downbeat. Carlson went on to explain how designers are adapting techniques, being inventive and benefitting from a choice of options to meet them.

First, the wire delays. In upper metal layers the wire delays can be up to 10 times less than those on the lower layers, which means that there is a significant timing gain from routing long or critical nets on the upper layers. A menu of wire thicknesses allows designers to pick the optimum thickness depending on where they are in the metal stack. “However,” warns Carlson, “there are limited routing resources on these upper metal layers, due to the presence of power or signal nets”. This can potentially cause congestion and possible routing issues if they are not dealt with.

Turning to pin access, the problem is that to via down to one pin can create a halo effect that locks pin access to the neighboring pin, he explains, making it extremely difficult to get the design to route. “The congestion can be low, but if your local pin density gets out of hand, the design won’t close, it won’t route. As a result, careful control of pin densities during cell placement, and global pin-access planning during detail routing can have a big impact on achievable design area.”
Other problem solving examples are to extend 2.5D models to be almost 2.9 “to be as accurate as a field solver,” says Carlson “and to keep runtime as low as possible compared to 28nm designs.” Bringing the RC of the FinFET into the designer’s platform as early as possible is also a sound measure, as RCs have twice the impact on delay at 16nm as they do at 20nm.

Double patterning is also touched on by Mentor’s Arvind Narayanan, product marketing manager Place & Route division. It is, he says a part of any design using FinFETs at 20nm or below. There are, he says extensive place and route layout restrictions at every stage of the flow, including placement, routing and optimization. “There are extensive place and route layout rules that tools must honor,” he says, naming fin grid alignment for standard cells and macros during placement, Vt min-area spacing rules, continuous OD rules and source-drain abutment rules. “These spacing rules are imposed by the process requirements and directly impact the placement and optimization engines in the router.” Naturally, the place and route extraction engine must be able to accurately model the 3D parasitic requirements of FinFETs but, warns Narayanan, implementation tools should be able to adhere to these additional constrains – without sacrificing power, performance or area.

The more complex FinFET structures need updated tools that are able to support more complex design rules than might be required for planar transistors. They require, for example, higher accuracy for reliable simulation and verification. He also notes that designers are finding the need to perform extraction at more corners, which prompts the demand for faster extraction processing.

“The interplay between local IPs and double patterning, pin access and noise, all become more complex at 16nm,” says Carlson. In addition to the expected increased complexities at each new node, IP validation is more sensitive to context. “Formerly, each EDA tool ran through a qualification suite and that was the end of the story.” The qualification tests have become more elaborate but EDA tools cannot be validated one at a time, he insists. “They must be validated in the context of a flow, but they must also be validated on a flow that is applied to a complex design that is representative of the first designs that will be going into production on the new process.”

Narayanan identifies that a new set of design rules has been written for 16nm FinFET “and some of these rules required new types of measurements and analysis by the physical design and verification tools, he says.

He recalls that once TSMC defined the initial set of design rules, it created a regression test suite to validate that physical verification decks produce the expected results, both at initial release and over time. “This test suite was developed by iteratively creating test chips, running the design rules against test chips, observing results, identifying and analyzing errors and updating the design rules until [TSMC] determined that the flow was acceptable for initial production”. It was down to EDA companies to extend tool capabilities to meet new measurement and analysis requirements.

Initially, the foundry focused on accuracy, he reveals, and Mentor collaborated, bringing
Experience of optimizing rules and techniques on achieving accurate results in the fastest possible time, with the smallest memory requirements, he says. He says that the collaboration for optimization for the 16nm node is “progressing even faster than 20nm, in spite of the added complexity that 16nm presents”.

The industry is working hard to create tools to develop 16nm designs – but for what end? Carlson makes an interesting point, saying that looking at enablement of 16nm FinFET also means looking at the expense that the overall ecosystem must bear to being a new process node into production (see illustration: source IBS May 2011). He refers to costs beyond building a facility, citing the process R&D cost for the node and ‘enablement collateral’. Aside for the bricks and mortar costs, he says “Fabless companies creating new SoC platforms face tremendous design costs (including masks).” He says that the implication has to be that rising design costs is that advanced nodes will be used for high margin, or very high volume, products.”

Deeper Dive – FinFet Validation Tools

Thursday, November 21st, 2013

By Caroline Hayes, Senior Editor

The industry prepares to embrace the all-encompassing FinFET validation model – a view from the supply chain.

TSMC’s 16nm FinFET reference flow has made headlines recently, and EDA and IP companies are responding with supporting products. It is not a simple support role, however, it demands a rigorous, all-encompassing model.

In response, Apache Design has announced that its RedHawk and Totem have completed methodology innovations for the thee-dimensional transistor architecture and TSMC has certified Mentor’s Olympus-SoC place and route system and its Calibre physical verification platform.

The first reaction has to be one of surprise as the excessive interest in FinFET. Apache Design’s vice president product engineering & customer support, Aveek Sarkar, provides the answer: “[FinFET] can manage voltage closely and lower the supply voltage considerably,” he told System Level Design. “Power is a quadratic formula, so to lower voltage from 1V to 0.7V reduces the dynamic power by 50%,” he adds, explaining the appeal of FinFET.

System Level Design asked if lower supply voltages can outweighed the obstacles FinFET poses to EDA? It has a more complex structure, with more restrictive design rules than planar structures and poses challenges in extraction. It seems these have not proved to be deterrents, judging by the industry’s activity.

For example, TSMC has given certification to the Mentor Olympus-SoC place and route system, and its Calibre physical verification platform. Avrind Narayanan, product marketing manager Place & Route division, Mentor Graphics, explains that the Olympus-SoC for 16nm FinFET enables efficient double patterning (DP) and timing closure. “It also has comprehensive support for new design rule checks and multi-patterning rules, fin grid alignment for standard cells and macros during placement, and Vt min-area rule and implant layer support during placement,” he adds.

Explaining the Calibre product, Michael Buehler-Garcia, senior director, marketing, Calibre Design Solutions, Mentor Graphics, tells System Level Design that it supports 16nm FinFET advanced design rule definition and litho hotspot pre-filtering. The Calibre SmartFill facility has been enhanced to support the TSMC-specified filling requirements for FinFET transistors, including support for density constraints and multilayer structures needed for FinFET layers.
Significantly, SmartFill also provides double patterning support for back end layers and, says Buehler-Garcia, “goes beyond simple polygons to automatically insert fill cells into a layout based on analysis of the design”.

He continues to point out the new challenges of 16nm FinFET designs. “[They] require careful checking for layout features that cannot be implemented with current lithography systems—so-called litho hotspots. They also require much more complex and accurate fill structures to help ensure planarity and to also help deal with issues in etch, lithography, stress and rapid thermal annealing (RTA) processes”. The value of place and route layout tools will be in implementing fin grid alignment for standard cells and macros during placement, he notes, as well as in Vt min-area rules and implant layer support during placement.

Apache has enhanced its PathFinder, which verifies ESD (electrostatic discharge) at the SoC level for the technology. Since FinFET lacks snapback protection, diodes have to be used, to protect against ESD. However, using diodes brings the drawback of degraded performance due to a higher current density. FinFET means that instead of one supply domain, there are now hundreds of voltage islands across the chip, says Sarkar, explaining Apache’s approach. These islands have to be protected individually, and the designer needs to be able to predict what problems will happen on each of the islands, which means that layout-based SoC sign-off is critical, he concludes. “It is no longer a visual check, but electrical analysis,” he says.

TSMC and Mentor Graphics introduced a fill ECO (Engineering Change Order) flow as part of the N16 reference flow. This enables incremental fill changes, which reduce run time and file size while supporting last minute engineering changes. “By preserving the vast majority of the fill, the ECO flow limits the timing impact of fill to the area around the ECO changes,” says Buehler-Garcia.

Sarkar agrees that FinFET requires more attention to fill and its impact on capacity, and the time needed for design and verification. The company works with the foundry for certification to ensure that the tool is ready in terms of capacity, performance and turnaround time. However, he warns that accuracy for the full chip is only possible by simulating the whole chip in the domain analysis. This means examining how much change is needed, and where the voltage is coming from. “Every piece has to be simulated accurately,” he says, predicting more co-design with different aspects will need to be brought into the design flow. Expanding on the theme, he says that one environment may focus on the package and the chip simultaneously, while another environment may include the package, the chip and the system. “There will be less individual silo-based analysis and more simulations that looks across multiple domains.”

For Buehler-Garcia, the main difference for 16nm FinFET was that new structures brought a new set of requirements that had to be developed and carefully verified throughout the certification process. He describes the collaboration between the foundry and the company as “an evolutionary step, not revolutionary”.

In the next Deeper Dive (December 5) System Level Design will look at the role of double patterning in FinFET processes and how different EDA tools address its IP validation.

Investments In EDA Stocks Offer Good Returns

Wednesday, November 20th, 2013

Gabe Moretti

I have heard multiple times that once an EDA company goes public almost always the new investors do not experience the growth in the share price that other companies in the electronics industry can offer.  At least this is what one hears from publicly traded EDA companies.  I wanted to see how true the opinion is.  I looked at the last twelve months stock market performance of Cadence, Mentor, and Synopsys and compared it to a few other electronics companies’ market performance.

The EDA Companies

On October 23rd Cadence reported third quarter 2013 revenue of $367 million, compared to revenue of $339 million reported for the same period in 2012. For the last complete financial year Cadence reported revenues of $1.33 billion, an increase of 15% over 2011 results.  During the last twelve months its stock price ranged from $13.51 to $12.71 reaching a peak price of $15.77 on July 19th.  The company today has a little over 287 million shares outstanding and a EPS (earning per share) of 1.53.  it is interesting to note that almost all the publicly traded shares are owned by institutional investors.

Mentor will release its 3rd quarter 2014 soon.  For the first six months of its 2014 fiscal year Mentor reported revenue of almost $480 million.  Its last completed year of operation resulted in revenue of $1.089 billion.  Its latest EPS is 0.95.  In the last twelve months he stock reached a highest closing price of $23.62 on October 1st and the lowest price of $14.22 on November 19, 2012.  The company is in currently executing a share buyback program and plans to purchase up to $20 million worth of shares.  Also in the Mentor case almost all of the outstanding stock is in the hands of institutional investors.  It is interesting to note that of the three companies I looked at, only Mentor is currently paying a dividend to its investors.  The quarterly dividend is $0.05 per share.

For the third quarter of fiscal year 2013, Synopsys reported revenue of $482.9 million, compared to $443.7 million for the third quarter of fiscal year 2012, an increase of 8.8%.  The company reported revenue for the last complete fiscal year of $1.756 billion.  Revenue for the quarter ended July 31, 2013 were almost $483 million.  Stock price ranged from a low of 31.42 on January 7th to a high of $38.40 on October 22nd.  Its EPS is 1.41.  Of the three EDA companies Synopsys is the company with the largest percentage of shares in the hands of small investors.

Other Electronics Companies

For comparison I picked ARM that considers itself an IP company, Applied Materials a provider of semiconductors fabrication equipment, and TSMC, a foundry.

ARM is the largest pure play IP company.  For its 3rd quarter 2013 it reported revenue of $286.7 million.  For its 2012 fiscal year it reported revenue of $650 million.  ARM pays dividends to its stockholders, a practice very popular with European companies.  At the beginning of September it increased the amount of its dividend from $0.12 to $0.167 per share.  Its stock price ranged from a low of $34.46 on November 20, 2012 to a high of $51.78 on October 21st.  Its EPS is 0.53 and only about 28% of its shares are held by institutional investors, making the stock more volatile due to a higher volume of daily trades by small investors.

Applied Materials stock price ranged from a low of $10.36 on November 19, 2012 to a high of $18.07 on October 22.  The company has just reported its fiscal 2013 results.  It had revenue of $8.719 billion and it pays a $0.10 quarterly dividend.  The EPS is a negative 0.36 and the stock is approximately 86% owned by institutional investors.

Finally TSMC’s stock ranged from a low of $15.75 on August 21st to a high of $20.21 on May 8th.  Its EPS is 1.19.  For fiscal 2012 the company reported revenue of over $17.2 billion.  For the 3rd quarter of 2013 revenue were a little over $5.5 billion.  The company is in a competitive market that also requires very high capital expenditures to stay competitive.

Conclusion

few data points show that there is really no substantial difference in the performance of the stock of an EDA company versus that of other companies in the electronics industry.  Certainly both Applied Materials and TSMC have much larger revenue, but their business model is quite different from that of EDA vendors.  Revenue size is not a good indicator of stock performance anyway.  Profits are, as well as expected performance in the short term (one or tow years).  Stock market behavior no longer reflects long term expectations as investors are focused on immediate returns.  Actually judging by earnings per shares, EDA companies are above average in the ability to generate revenue from their capitalization.  The fact that institutional investors own a very large percentage of stocks of EDA companies shows that they are seen as reliable conservative investments.  In the last twelve months Mentor stock in fact performed as a growth stock.  If you had purchased it at its low price of $14.22 and sold at $23.62 you would have realized a 66% return on your investment.  Only a similar investment in Applied Materials would have returned a higher percentage.

Systems News – October 22

Tuesday, October 22nd, 2013

Everyone is getting excited about ARM Tech, held in Santa Clara Convention Center, from October 29 to October 31. Both Cadence and Videantis announced they will be there at booth 600 and booth 617, respectively.
Videantis will be showing video/vision demos and video coding and computer vision capabilities. Visitors can see its Full HD multi-standard video encode/decode and computer vision demonstrations and discuss how to futureproof SOCs for the latest standards in video coding and computer vision algorithms.

Cadence will be active at the conference, with chief technology advisor, Jim Ready, taking part in the panel discussion, “The Future of Collaborative Embedded SW Development, from the Viewpoint of One Technology Chain Gang.” (3:30pm – 4:15pm Oct. 30, at the Expo Theater.) Other colleagues will be presenting 15 papers with ARM, customers and partners.

The company will also give the first public demonstrations of its IO-SSO Analysis Suite at the EPEPS (Electrical Performance of Electronic Packaging and Systems) conference October 27 to October 30 in San Jose.
It provides system-level simultaneous switching noise analysis, addressing coupled signal, power and ground networks across chips, packages and PCBs and complements the company’s implementation tools for multi-fabric extraction, system-level connectivity and high-speed DDR interface simulation .

Synopsys has extended DesignWare with complete 40G Ethernet IP, including DesignWare Enterprise 40G Ethernet Controller IP, Enterprise 10G PHY and Verification IP. It supports 1-, 2.5-, 10- and 40G network speeds, for designs to migrate to faster data rates. It also supports IEEE 802.3 specifications for Ethernet-based LANs. To conserve power in data centers it also Energy-Efficient Ethernet and Wake-on-LAN features.

The first heterogeneous 3D ICs in production, were announced by Xilinx, with the production release of the Virtex-7 HT family. The 28nm devices were developed on TSMC’s Chip-on-Wafer-on-Substrate (CoWoS) 3D IC process and means that the company’s full line up of 28nm chips is now in full production.

Blog Review October 10 2013

Thursday, October 10th, 2013

By Caroline Hayes

At the TSMC Open Innovation Platform (TSMC OIP) Ecosystem Forum, Richard Goering hears that 16mm FinFET design and 3D ICs are moving closer to volume production. Dr Cliff Hou, vice president, R&D, TSMC warned that although EDA tools and flows have been qualified, foundation IP has been validated, and interface IP is under development, one tool does not guarantee success, calling for a “more rigorous validation methodology”.

Steve Favre was also at TSMC OIP, discussing 450nm wafers. He wondered why EUV (extreme ultra violet) patterning has become a gating item for the move to 450nm, and how are these two related? Money, as usual, is the answer, It would cost billions of dollars to build a 450nm wafer fab and billions to move to EUV – why pay twice?

Lakshmi Mandyam from ARM’s smart connected community reflects on her journey from the power-hungry, boot-up slow laptop to a touch-sensor, multi-screen tablet. She ends by marking the anniversary of her laptop-free life. Maybe she should start an LA (Laptop Anonymous) support group?

Chip Design’s John Byler cringes with embarrassment while following up a nanotechtechnology lead at IEF in Dublin, Ireland. The lapse of government funding is proclaimed on the National Institute of Standards and Technology, accounting for the website’s and its affiliated websites’ closure. He turns to the French for further research, over a croissant – naturellement.

Pity Brian Fuller, caught off-guard by the usually genial  analyst Gary Smith in an interview for Unhinged.  Smith urged EDA vendors to be bolder, pooh-poohed the idea of industry consolidation, held forth on the power of the press and then complimented John Cooley. What is the world coming to?

Michael Posner sounds the alarm that “My RTL is an alien”, neatly timed to coincide with a white paper by Synopsys which details ways to accelerate FPGA (field programmable gate array)-based prototyping. With over 70% of today’s ASICs and systems-on-chips (SoCs) being prototyped in an FPGA, designers are looking for ways to ease the creation of FPGA-based prototypes directly from the ASIC design source files.

Gabe Moretti is feeling nostalgic in preparation for the Back to the Future Dinner organized by the EDA Consortium at the Computer Museum, Mountain View, California, this month.

In this blog he remembers the early days of EDA, when it was called CAD (computer aided design) and ruylith cut by hand. Those were the days!

WEEK IN REVIEW: October 3 2013

Friday, October 4th, 2013

Caroline Hayes

Fujifilm and imec have developed photoresist technology for organic semiconductors that enables submicron patterning on large substrates, without damage to the organic materials. It could prove to be a cost-effective alternative to current methods, i.e. shadow masking and inkjet printing, which have not proved suitable for high resolution patterns on large substrates. Photolithography is successfully used in patterning silicon semiconductors, but the photoresist dissolves the organic semiconductor material during processing. OPDs (organic photo detectors) were produced at sizes down to 200µm x 200µm without degradation. OLED (organic light emitting diodes) were also produced, at a pitch of 20µm and were found to emit uniform light.

Synopsys released a new TLM (transaction level model) subsystem flow and eclipse IDE (integrated development environment) integration speed Virtualizer Development Kit. The Virtualizer 13.06 enables and disables components of the design to allow users to optimize simulation performance during software debug.

Celebration for Cadence Design Systems as it accepted not one but three Partner of the Year awards from TSMC at this month’s Open Innovation Platform forum. They were for the Analog/Mixed-Signal IP, the 16nm FinFET Design Infrastructure, and Joint Delivery of 3D-IC Design Solution categories.

NAND flash devices are looking beyond conventional semiconductor manufacturing techniques, reports IHS. Nearly two thirds (65.2%) of all NAND memory chips shipped worldwide by 2017, will be produced using 3D processes, according to a Flash Dynamics brief. At present, it is less than 1%. Time is running out for planar semiconductor technology capacity, leaving 3D manufacturing the answer to building higher densities NAND products.

Results from the RF and Analog/Mixed-Signal (AMS) IC Survey

Wednesday, October 2nd, 2013

A summary of the results of a survey for developers of products in RF and analog/mixed-signal (AMS) ICs.

This summary details the results of a survey for developers of products in RF and analog/mixed-signal (AMS) ICs. A total of 129 designers responded to this survey. Survey questions focused on job area, company information, end-user application markets, product development types, programming languages, tool vendors, foundries, processes and other areas.

Key Findings

  • More respondents are using Cadence’s EDA tools for RFIC designs. In order, respondents also listed Agilent EESof, Mentor, Ansys/Ansoft, Rhode & Schwartz and Synopsys.
  • More respondents are using Cadence’s EDA tool for AMS IC design. Agilent EESof, Mentor, Aniritsu, Synopsys and Ansys/Ansoft were behind Cadence.
  • Respondents had the most expertise with C/C++. Regarding expertise with programming languages, C/C++ had the highest rating, followed in order by Verilog, Matlab-RF, Matlab-Simulink, Verilog-AMS, VHDL, SystemVerilog, VHDL-AMS and SystemC.
  • For RF design-simulation-verification tools, more respondents in order listed that they use Spice, Verilog, Verilog-AMS, VHDL and Matlab/RF-Simulink. For planned projects, more respondents in order listed SystemC, VHDL-AMS, SystemVerilog, C/C++ and Matlab/RF-Simulink.
  • Regarding the foundries used for RF and/or MMICs, most respondents in order listed TSMC, IBM, TowerJazz, GlobalFoundries, RFMD and UMC.
  • Silicon-based technology is predominately used for current RF/AMS designs. GaAs and SiGe are also widely used. But for future designs, GaAs will lose ground; GaN will see wider adoption.
  • RF and analog/mixed-signal ICs still use fewer transistors than their digital counterparts. Some 30% of respondents are developing designs of less than 1,000 transistors. Only 11% are doing designs of more than 1 million transistors.
  • Digital pre-distortion is still the favorite technique to improve the efficiency of a discrete power amp. Envelope tracking has received a lot of attention in the media. But surprisingly, envelope tracking ranks low in terms of priorities for power amp development.

Implications

  • Cadence continues to dominate the RFIC/AMS EDA environment. Virtuoso remains a favorite among designers. RF/AMS designers will continue to have other EDA tool choices as well.
  • The large foundries, namely TSMC and IBM, will continue to have a solid position in RF/AMS. But the specialty foundries will continue to make inroads. Altis, Dongbu, Magnachip, TowerJazz, Vanguard and others are expanding in various RF/AMS fronts.
  • There is room for new foundry players in RF/AMS. GlobalFoundries and Altis are finding new customers in RF, RF SOI and RF CMOS.
  • The traditional GaAs foundries—TriQuint, RFMD, Win Semi and others—are under pressure in certain segments. The power amp will remain a GaAs-based device, but other RF components are moving to RF SOI, SiGe and other processes.

Detailed Summary

  • Job Function Area-Part 1: A large percentage of respondents are involved in the development of RF and/or AMS ICs. More respondents are currently involved in the development of RF and/or AMS ICs (55%). A smaller percentage said they were involved in the last two years (13%). A significant portion are not are involved in the development of RF or AMS ICs (32%).
  • Job Function Area-Part 2: Respondents listed one or a combination of functions. More respondents listed analog/digital designer (30%), followed in order by engineering management (22%), corporate management (12%) and system architect (10%). The remaining respondents listed analog/digital verification, FPGA designer/verification, software, test, student, RF engineer, among others.
  • Company Information: Respondents listed one or a combination of industries. More respondents listed a university (23%), followed in order by systems integrator (18%), design services (14%), fabless semiconductor (13%) and semiconductor manufacturer (10%). The category “other” represented a significant group (13%). The remaining respondents work for companies involved in ASICs, ASSPs, FPGAs, software and IP.
  • Company Revenue (Annual): More respondents listed less than $25 million (27%), followed in order by $100 million to $999 million (24%) and $1 billion and above (22%). Others listed $25 million to $99 million (8%). Some 19% of respondents did not know.
  • Location: More respondents listed North America (60%), followed in order by Europe (21%) and Asia-Pacific (10%). Other respondents listed Africa, China, Japan, Middle East and South America.
  • Primary End-User Application for Respondent’s ASIC/ASSP/SoC design: More respondents listed communications (67%), followed in order by industrial (28%), consumer/multimedia (24%), computer (21%), medical (15%) and automotive (12%).
  • Primary End Market for Respondent’s Design. For wired communications, more respondents listed networking (80%), followed by backhaul (20%). For wireless communications, more respondents listed handsets (32%) and basestations (32%), followed in order by networking, backhaul, metro area networks and telephony/VoIP.
  • Primary End Market If Design Is Targeted for Consumer Segment. More respondents listed smartphones (34%), followed in order by tablets (24%), displays (18%), video (13%) and audio (11%).

Programming Languages Used With RF/AMS Design Tools:

  • Respondents had the most expertise with C and C++. Regarding expertise with programming languages, C/C++ had an overall rating of 2.47 in the survey, followed by in order by Verilog (2.32), Matlab-RF (2.27), Matlab-Simulink (2.17), Verilog-AMS (2.03), VHDL (1.99), SystemVerilog (1.84), VHDL-AMS (1.70) and SystemC (1.68).
  • Respondents said they had “professional expertise” (19%) with C/C++. Respondents were “competent” (27%) or were “somewhat experienced” (37%) with C/C++. Some 17% said they had “no experience” with C/C++.
  • Respondents said they had “professional expertise” with Verilog-AMS. (13%). Respondents were “competent” (15%) and “somewhat experienced” (35%) with Verilog-AMS. Some 38% said they had “no experience” with Verilog-AMS.
  • Respondents said they had “professional expertise” with Verilog (12%), or were “competent” (30%) or were “somewhat experienced” (36%). Some 22% said they had “no experience” with Verilog.
  • Respondents said they had “professional expertise” with Matlab-RF (10%), or were “competent” (27%) or “somewhat experienced” (42%). Some 21% said they had “no experience” with the technology.
  • Respondents also had “professional experience” with VHDL (10%), SystemVerilog (9%), SystemC (7%), Matlab-Simulink (6%) and VHDL-AMS (3%).
  • Respondents had ‘’no experience” with SystemC (55%), VHDL-AMS (51%), SystemVerilog (49%), Verilog-AMS (38%), VHDL (36%), Matlab-Simulink (26%), Verilog (22%), Matlab-RF (21%) and C/C++ (17%).

Types of Programming Languages and RF Design-Simulation-Verification Tools Used

  • For current projects, more respondents listed Spice (85%), Verilog (85%), Verilog-AMS (79%), VHDL (76%), Matlab/RF-Simulink (71%), C/C++ (64%), SystemVerilog (56%), VHDL-AMS (44%) and SystemC (21%).
  • For planned projects, more respondents listed SystemC (79%), VHDL-AMS (56%), SystemVerilog (44%), C/C++ (36%), Matlab/RF-Simulink (29%), VHDL (24%), Verilog-AMS (21%), Verilog (15%) and Spice (15%).

Which Tool Vendors Are Used in RFIC Development

  • More respondents listed Cadence (60), followed in order by Agilent EESof (43), Mentor (38), Ansys/Ansoft (29), Rhode & Schwartz (26) and Synopsys (25). Others listed were Aniritsu, AWR, Berkeley Design, CST, Dolphin, EMSS, Helic, Hittite, Remcon, Silvaco, Sonnet and Tanner.
  • The respondents for Cadence primarily use the company’s tools for RF design (68%), simulation (73%), layout (67%) and verification (43%). The company’s tools were also used for EM analysis (27%) and test (22%).
  • The respondents for Agilent EESof primarily use the company’s tools for RF design (54%) and simulation (65%). The company’s tools were also used for EM analysis, layout, verification and test.
  • The respondents for Mentor Graphics primarily use the company’s tools for verification (55%), layout (37%) and design (34%). Meanwhile, the respondents for Rhode & Schwartz primarily use the company’s tools for test (69%). The respondents for Synopsys primarily use the company’s tools for design (40%), simulation (60%) and verification (48%).

Which Tool Vendors Are Used in AMS IC Development

  • More respondents listed Cadence (48), followed in order by Agilent EESof (26), Mentor (22), Aniritsu (19), Synopsys (18) and Ansys/Ansoft (15). Others listed were AWR, Berkeley Design, CST, Dolphin, EMSS, Helic, Hittite, Remcon, Rohde & Schwarz, Silvaco, Sonnet and Tanner.
  • The respondents for Cadence primarily use the company’s tools for AMS design (79%), simulation (71%), layout (71%) and verification (48%). The company’s tools were also used for EM analysis and test.
  • The respondents for Agilent EESof primarily use the company’s tools for design (42%), simulation (69%) and EM analysis (54%).
  • The respondents for Mentor Graphics primarily use the company’s tools for design (50%), simulation (46%) and verification (55%). The respondents for Aniritsu primarily use the company’s tools for test (47%). The respondents for Synopsys primarily use the company’s tools for design (61%) and simulation (67%).

Areas of Improvement for Verification and Methodologies

  • Respondents had a mix of comments.

Foundry and Processes

  • Foundry Used for RFICs and/or MMICs: More respondents listed TSMC (32), followed in order by IBM (27), TowerJazz (19), GlobalFoundries (17), RFMD (13) and UMC (13). The next group was Win Semi (12), ST (11), TriQuint (11) and GCS (10). Other respondents listed Altis, Cree, IHP, LFoundry, OMMIC, SMIC, UMS and XFab.
  • Of the respondents for TSMC, 87% use TSMC for RF foundry work and 55% for MMICs. Of the respondents for IBM, 81% use IBM for RF foundry work and 41% for MMICs. Of the respondents for TowerJazz, 84% use TowerJazz for RF foundry work and 42% for MMICs. Of the respondents for GlobalFoundries, 76% use GF for RF foundry work and 41% for MMICs.
  • Complexity of Respondent’s Designs (Transistor Count): More respondents listed less than 1,000 transistors (30%), followed in order by 10,000-99,000 transistors (14%) and 100,000-999,000 transistors (14%). Respondents also listed 1,000-4,900 transistors (11%), greater than 1 million transistors (11%) and 5,000-9,900 transistors (10%).
  • Process Technology Types: For current designs, more respondents listed silicon (66%), followed in order by GaAs (32%), SiGe (27%), GaN (23%) and InP (10%). For future designs, more respondents listed silicon (66%), followed in order by SiGe (31%), GaN (28%), GaAs (16%) and InP (13%).

Technology Selections:

  • Which Baseband Processor Does Design Interface With: More respondents listed TI (35%), ADI (22%) and Tensilica/Cadence (18%). Respondents also list other (26%).
  • Technique Used To Improve Discrete Power Amplifier Efficiency: In terms of priorities, more respondents listed digital pre-distortion (38%), followed in order by linearization (27%), envelop tracking (14%) and crest factor reduction (10%). In terms of priorities, the technique that showed the lowest ranking was envelop tracking (37%), crest factor reduction (21%) and linearization (14%).

Test and Measurement

  • Importance of Test and Measurement: More respondents listed very important (34%), followed in order by important (24%), extremely important (20%), somewhat important (19%) and unimportant (3%).

lapedus_markMark LaPedus has covered the semiconductor industry since 1986, including five years in Asia when he was based in Taiwan. He has held senior editorial positions at Electronic News, EBN and Silicon Strategies. In Asia, he was a contributing writer for Byte Magazine. Most recently, he worked as the semiconductor editor at EE Times.

EDA-IP UPDATE: 2D materials store energy; Applied Materials-Tokyo Electron, the low-down on semi spend; (Ni/Cu) platingboost solar cell efficiency

Monday, September 30th, 2013

Researchers find “massive” amounts of energy between layers of 2D materials

Layered MXene (with added intercalated ions illustrated between layers).
Photo credit: M. Lukatskaya, Y. Dall’Agnese, E. Ren, Y. Gogotsi

Materials that are as thin as a single atom, have the potential to store energy, researchers at Drexel University have discovered.

Following the finding three years ago of Dr. Michel W. Barsoum and Dr. Yury Gogotsi, both professors in Drexel’s College of Engineering, that atomically thin, two-dimensional materials -similar to graphene- have good electrical conductivity and a surface that is hydrophilic, or can hold liquids, they have investigated these “MXenes” and report the finding that they believe can push materials storage capacities to new levels while also allowing for their use in flexible devices.

Applied Materials and Tokyo Electron merger, what’s in it for IP

Although described as a merger, Applied Materials will own 68% of the new company, reports Reuters.

Together they could create the world’s largest semiconductor equipment company in terms of sales, worth an estimated $29bn. As a result, it is to be investigated by anti-trust regulators.

Chipestimate reports that one effect of the merger might be to drive automation of chip design verification, which will increase the already low costs of EDA tools. The other side of the coin could be a swifter approval process for soft IP standard, as consolidation will mean fewer companies to determine which IP design standards can be used.

The equipment companies’ customer base is shrinking. US semiconductor companies have either sold capacity or chosen to outsource manufacturing to foundries like TSMC in Asia. For many observers, the answer could be held by Moore’s Law and what the next process node determines.

Applied Materials CEO Gary Dickerson will be chief executive of the new company and Tokyo Electron chief executive, Tetsuro Higashi, will become chairman.

Japan semiconductor spend loses ground, but is still ahead of Europe

Reversal of fortunes, sees Japan’s semiconductor companies lose ground

IC Insights has reviewed the semiconductor industry over the last 30 years and found that Japan’s share of capital spending is a lowly 7% in the first half of this year. In 1985 Japanese companies accounted for 51% capital spend; but since then companies such as NEC, Hitachi and Matsushita have disappeared off the semiconductor map.

The analyst company also identifies former giants such as Sanyo which was acquired by ON Semiconductor; Sony, which cut semiconductor capital spending and announced its move to an asset-lite strategy for ICs; Fujitsu, which sold its wireless group to Intel, sold its MCU and analog IC business to Spansion, and is consolidating its system LSI business with Panasonic’s – not forgetting Mitsubishi.

The report also shows that from 2000 to the first half of this year, companies in China, South Korea, Taiwan, and Singapore invested in wafer fabs and advanced process technology.

And the rest of the world? North America accounted for 37% of capital spending in 1H 2013, mostly spending by Intel, GlobalFoundries, Micron. The capital spend has remained around 29%-33% since 1990.

The three large European semiconductor suppliers each operate a fab-lite or asset-lite strategy. As a result, says IC Insights, Europe’s share of semiconductor capital spending is 3% of total capex in 1H13. The report forecasts capex spending by STMicroelectronics, Infineon, and NXP – and all other European semiconductor suppliers combined – will amount to less than $1.5 billion in 2013. In comparison, nine semiconductor companies – headed by Samsung, Intel, and TSMC, are forecast to spend more money than Europe will spend collectively this year.

Imec and Meco present 20% efficiency in silicon solar cells

Shown at European Photovoltaic Solar Energy Conference and Exhibition (EUPVSEC), large i-PERC-type silicon solare cells achieve 20.5% average efficiency.

At this week’s EUPVSEC in Paris, France, imec and Meco, a supplier of plating equipment will, present large area (156x156mm²) i-PERC-type silicon solar cells. They use Nickel/Copper (Ni/Cu) plating for the front contacts and achieve 20.5% average efficiency using the plating on p-type Czochralski Silicon (Cz-Si) material.

The companies achieved a maximum efficiency of 20.7% (confirmed by ISE callab). This improvement in efficiency is also exciting because the coating is less expensive than screen-printed PERC cells.

The cells were processed on imec’s solar cell pilot line using Meco’s inline plating tool to deposit the Ni/Cu front contacts. The metallization process of the Ni/Cu stack included Ultraviolet laser ablation, sequential in-line plating of the metal layers and contact annealing.

WEEK IN REVIEW: September 27 2013

Friday, September 27th, 2013

By Caroline Hayes

FinFET focus for TSMC and partners; CMOS scaling research program is extended; carbon nanotubes computing breakthrough

FinFET continues to be a focus for TSMC which has released three silicon-validated reference flows with the Open Innovation Platform (OIP) to enable 16FinFET SoC designs and 3D chip stacking packages. The first is the 16FinFET Digital Reference Flow, providing technology support for post-planar design challenge, including extraction, quantized pitch placement, low Vdd operation, electromigration and power management. Secondly, there is the 16FinFET Custom Design Reference Flow with custom transistor level design and verification. Finally there is the 3D IC Reference Flow. The foundry has announced a 3D-IC reference flow with Cadence Design Systems and a reference flow, jointly developed with Synopsys, built on tool certification currently in the foundry’s V0.5 Design Rule Manual and SPICE. Collaboration will continue with device modeling and parasitic extraction, place and route, custom design, static timing analysis, circuit simulation, rail analysis, and physical and transistor verification technologies in the Galaxy Implementation Platform.


Still with collaboration, imec and Micron Technology have extended their strategic research collaboration on advanced CMOS scaling for a further three years.

Carbon nanotubes have been used by a team of engineers at Stanford University to build a basic computer. This is, says Professor Subhasish Mitra, one of the research leaders, one of the demonstrations of complete digital systems using this technology, which could succeed the silicon transistor in computing’s complex devices driving digital electronic systems, as silicon chips reach physical limits hampering size, speed and cost.

The Stanford researchers created a powerful algorithm that maps out a circuit layout that is guaranteed to work no matter whether or where carbon nanotubes might not be the desired straight lines, to assemble a basic computer with 178 transistors. (The limit is due to the University’s chip-making facilities rather than an industrial fabrication process.)