How Advanced Chip Design Is Done Today

How Advanced Chip Design Is Done Today

Advanced chip design has been done in the semiconductor industry for decades using Electronic Design Automation (EDA) tools. These allow semiconductor design teams to graphically plan the layouts of their circuits, run simulations, and verify if the chips perform as intended. Today, these software tools are moving away from costly on-premises solutions to software-as-a-service platforms. Keep reading to find out the history of EDA software tools in the industry, what they do, and how they will help design the next generation of microchips with EDA on the cloud. 

Why Electronic Systems Are Needed For The Integrated Circuit Design Process

Why Electronic Systems Are Needed for the Integrated Circuit Design Process | INQUIVIX TECHNOLOGIES

The semiconductor manufacturing process is extremely complex, time-consuming, and costly. If there is an error in the design, it needs to be fixed during the design process itself before it is sent for the manufacturing stage. This is because even the tiniest of design errors or manufacturing defects can render the finished semiconductor components, integrated circuit, or printed circuit board useless. 

Adding to the complexity even further is that the latest electronic circuits and printed circuit boards used in everything from smart cars to voice assistants contain billions of circuit components. These microscopic components all interact with each other and their behavior needs to be evaluated to confirm if they function as intended. Therefore integrated circuits are designed first in the computer where their design can be tested safely without wasting any resources. 

Computer-aided design tools have been used by semiconductor companies since the 1970s for the design, simulation, and verification of integrated circuits. These software tools are called ‘Electronic Design Automation’ (EDA) tools. 

The History Of EDA Software Used To Design Integrated Circuits

The History of EDA Software Used to Design Integrated Circuits | INQUIVIX TECHNOLOGIES
Early CAD Systems Used for Circuit Design

Semiconductor design was first performed manually by hand through mechanical means. It was in the 1960s and 70s that Computer-Aided Design or Computer-Aided Manufacturing (CAD/CAM) systems first came into use for architecture, cartography, mechanical, and of course semiconductor design. These were tools that required large mainframe computers to run. The Graphic Design System (GDS) format was introduced by a company called Calma to create integrated circuit (IC) designs. Their GDS II format was used to design IC layouts by the semiconductor industry for many decades. There were the earliest Electronic Design Automation (EDA) software tools.

In the early 1980s, the application-specific integrated circuit (ASIC) industry took off. Customized integrated circuits that used to be available for only the largest original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), were now affordable for smaller designers. This was possible through the development of Very Large Scale Integration (VLSI) technology which was quickly adopted by the semiconductor manufacturers. 

Companies like Intel used to produce their own in-house Electronic Design Automation tools for the design of semiconductor chips, but as access to logic-simulation-based design verification tools became widely available, the commercial EDA industry was born. Electronic systems were developed by early pioneers like Valid Logic, Daisy Systems, and Mentor Graphics. This period of semiconductor design was called computer-aided engineering or CAE.

The term Electronic Design Automation was first used in the late 1980s as the design tools matured. The hardware description language called Verilog was introduced with simulation tools that were capable of direct simulation of chip designs. Logic synthesis was now possible by allowing design teams to understand circuit behavior through the simulation of logic gates. Companies like Synposis, Mentor, and Cadence led the way in Electronic Design Automation tools at the time. 

The History of EDA Software Used to Design Integrated Circuits | INQUIVIX TECHNOLOGIES
EDA Systems of the 1980s

The Types Of EDA Tools Used For Advanced Chip Design

The Types of EDA Tools Used for Advanced Chip Design | INQUIVIX TECHNOLOGIES

There are mainly three types of Electronic Design Automation (EDA) tools used by semiconductor companies to help during the design process of integrated circuits. They are design, verification, and simulation tools.  

Simulation Tools

These EDA tools utilize a hardware description language such as Verilog or VHDL to describe an integrated circuit. The simulation tool then models its components and their circuit behavior in an attempt to see how it would react under various input conditions. Hardware-based emulation or rapid prototyping methods are used when large amounts of data input need to be tested. This is required for video processing applications.   

Design Tools

Computer-aided design software can be used to build the circuit components that perform a proposed or required function. This can be done in a logical manner where circuit components are chosen and connected through logic synthesis to implement whatever function the designer needs. Alternatively, this can be done with a physical process where the components can be placed and routed.          

Verification Tools

These electronic systems are meant to examine the logical or physical representation of the integrated circuit to verify if it has the proper connections, and can deliver the desired performance. Physical verification involves checking the interconnected geometries to see if they match the manufacturing requirements. These procedures can include up to 10,000 rules to be verified. 

Layout vs. schematic (LVS) is a verification method where the original description of the integrated circuit is compared with its implementation. Simulation EDA software can be used for functional verification where a circuit’s expected behavior is compared with its actual behavior. Simulation is limited by the input stimulus available to electronic systems. Circuit behavior can also be verified through the use of algorithms without any input stimuli required. This approach is part of a concept called formal verification. 

While the design process is handled by EDA software, the actual manufacturing of semiconductor components through monitoring and control of the production line in the fabrication plant is handled by a software called ‘Manufacturing Execution System’ or MES.    

Benefits Of Digital System Design On The Cloud

Electronic Design Automation (EDA) software tools are now being offered by software-as-a-service (SaaS) platforms. EDA software used to be available only to the market leaders that were already established in the industry. However, with this software now available on the cloud, computer-aided design is becoming more accessible to the smaller companies in the semiconductor industry that are quickly embracing these new design methods. Electronic Design Automation software on the cloud comes with many benefits to its users. 

Electronic Design Automation Is More Affordable On The Cloud

The Cadence CloudBurst was a SaaS platform that launched in 2019 and has been hugely supportive of small to medium-sized businesses (SMBs) with their design process. It allows them to get their electronic design work done on short-term projects without having to invest in onsite EDA software or during peak usage when their existing EDA is lacking capacity. 

Before EDA software on the cloud, SMBs could never really afford the computing hardware infrastructure required to finalize their designs. Now they can perform highly complex computing-intensive design workloads without worrying about server infrastructure. Now a semiconductor chip designer from any company could use a laptop to access the EDA on the cloud, run their simulations, and get verification of the design. 

Furthermore, the maintenance and operating costs of keeping server hardware on premises are drastically reduced for both SMBs and even larger semiconductor companies. 

Electronic Design Automation Is More Scalable On The Cloud

By 2022, Cadence noticed that even larger semiconductor companies were shifting their EDA software work to the cloud. The reason was that the design process for the new and sophisticated chips was very complex. This was pushing the limits of their existing EDA infrastructure and creating bottlenecks in their design process. 

Even where additional network, server, and storage capacity was planned specifically to run the EDA software, they simply could not keep up with the incredible demand for microchips in recent years. Adding special-purpose hardware to boost capacity meant a long process of checking server specifications, purchasing, installing, and provisioning which would normally take months. 

With EDA software on the cloud, larger semiconductor companies have the option of going for a hybrid model. Existing onsite server hardware can be connected to the platform and still be used, while additional capacity can be added during peak times or whenever they need it.   

Shorter Time To Market

With Electronic Design Automation software running on the cloud, the performance of these applications is also getting a significant boost over what designers can expect from their on-premises hardware. This can reduce time spent on complex simulations, and verification of chips. The result is improvements in productivity, reduction of costs, and shorter time to market. Depending on the company this could save millions of dollars. 

Collaboration Is Easier With Electronic Design Automation

Electronic Design Automation tools used to be licensed enterprise software installed on server hardware located at the company premises. The design team had to be physically in front of their fixed workstations to access the EDA. With the Covid-19 pandemic pushing employees to work from their homes, this situation was no longer feasible for most semiconductor companies. 

EDA software on the cloud is great for a distributed design team to access the required tools from anywhere they want. All they need is a laptop and an internet connection to access the platform. A semiconductor design environment can be easily set up with new employees recruited and given access to the EDA tools within a week or two.  

EDA For The Next Generation Of Microchips

The next generation of Electronic Design Automation tools is now being developed by the leading pioneers in the industry such as Cadence and Siemens EDA (formally Mentor Graphics). They are utilizing advanced artificial intelligence and big data processing to improve the performance of their latest EDA services on the cloud. Verification and debugging of chips under design will be made faster and less time-consuming with these advancements. 

Electronic Design Automation is an absolutely necessary part of semiconductor design and companies aiming to produce the next generation of microchips that will power everything from driverless cars to smart cities will need to use them to stay in the game. To learn more about semiconductor design, manufacturing, and industry news, check out Inquivix Technologies!


 What Is Electronic Design Automation?

Electronic Design Automation (EDA) are software tools and cloud services that can help semiconductor designers to plan the layouts of integrated circuits, run simulations, and verify if these designs perform as intended before sending them to be manufactured at the fabrication plant. 

Is EDA And CAD The Same?

Computer-aided Design (CAD) tools were used by the semiconductor industry during the 1970s. Then in the late 1980s, purpose-built design tools called EDA for printed circuit boards and integrated circuits were invented. EDA is a descendant of CAD tools and is sometimes referred to as ECAD (Electronic Computer-Aided Design).

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