Friday, May 31, 2013

Moore’s Law good for 14nm, and probably, 10nm: Dr. Wally Rhines

Its a pleasure to talk to Dr. Walden (Wally) C. Rhines, chairman and CEO, Mentor Graphics Corp. On his way to DAC 2013, where he will be giving a ten-minute "Visionary Talk", he found time to speak with me. First, I asked him given that the global semiconductor industry is entering the sub-20nm era, will it continue to be ‘business as usual’ or ‘it’s going to be different this time’?

Dr. Rhines said: "Every generation has some differences, even though it usually seems like we’ve seen all this before. The primary change that comes with “sub-20nm” is the change in transistor structure to FinFET. This will give designers a boost toward achieving lower power. However, compared to 28nm, there will be a wafer cost penalty to pay for the additional process complexity that also includes two additional levels of resolution enhancement."

Impact of new transistor structures
How will the new transistor structures impact on design and manufacturing?

According to him, the relatively easy impact on design is related to the simulation of a new device structure; models have already been developed and characterized but will be continuously updated until the processes are stable. More complex are the requirements for place and route and verification; support for “fin grids” and new routing and placement rules has already been implemented by the leading place and route suppliers.

He added: "Most complex is test; FinFET will require transistor-level (or “cell-aware”) design for test to detect failures, rather than just the traditional gate-level stuck-at fault models. Initial results suggest that failure to move to cell-aware ATPG will result in 500 to 1000 DPM parts being shipped to customers.

"Fortunately, “cell-aware” ATPG design tools have been available for about a year and are easily implemented with no additional EDA cost. Finally, there will be manufacturing challenges but, like all manufacturing challenges, they will be attacked, analyzed and resolved as we ramp up more volume."

Introducing 450mm wafer handling and new lithography
Is it possible to introduce 450mm wafer handling and new lithography successfully at this point in time?

"Yes, of course," Dr. Rhines said. "However, there are a limited number of companies that have the volume of demand to justify the investment. The wafer diameter transition decision is always a difficult one for the semiconductor manufacturing equipment companies because it is so costly and it requires a minimum volume of machines for a payback. In this case, it will happen. The base of semiconductor manufacturing equipment companies is becoming very concentrated and most of the large ones need the 450mm capability."

What will be the impact of transistor variability and other physics issues?

As per Dr. Rhines, the impact should be significant. FinFET, for example requires controlling physical characteristics of multiple fins within a narrow range of variability. As geometries shrink, small variations become big percentages. New design challenges are always interesting for engineers but the problems will be overcome relatively quickly.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Global semiconductor companies delivering platforms: Jaswinder Ahuja, Cadence

Some time ago, Cadence Design Systems Inc. had announced the EDA360 vision! As per Jaswinder Ahuja, corporate VP and MD of Cadence Design Systems India, the Cadence vision of EDA360 is said to be well and alive. The organization has been aligned around the EDA360 vision.

The EDA360 is a five-year vision for defining the trends in the EDA industry, based on what Cadence is observing in the industry and the direction in which, it feels, the industry will go.

At Cadence, the Silicon Realization Group is headed by Dr. Chi-ping Hsu. The SoC Realization Group is headed by Martin Lund, and Nimish Modi is looking after the System Realization Group. Cadence's focus has been on in-house development and innovation. Tempus has been a major announcement from the Silicon Realization Group.

What's going on with EDA360?
There has been a renewed thrust in the SoC Realization Group at Cadence. Already, there have been three acquisitions this year -- Cosmic Circuits, Tensilica and Evatronix. Cadence is buying the IP part of the business from Evatronix. This acquisition is ongoing and will be announced in June 2013.

On the relationship between the electronics and the EDA industries, Ahuja said that the electronics industry was currently going through a transition, and that the EDA industry needs to change. The importance of system-level design has increased. Companies are currently focusing on optimizing the end user experience.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Cadence Tempus accelerates timing analysis and closure by weeks!

Cadence Design Systems Inc. has announced the Tempus timing signoff solution. It facilitates ground-breaking signoff timing analysis and closure. The new technology accelerates timing analysis and closure by weeks. It is said to be up to 10X faster than competing solutions. Tempus has also been endorsed by Texas Instruments (TI).
Complexity is growing exponentially and signoff is the bottleneck. There is an increasing design complexity. Low power is important across markets -- from smartphones to datacenters. Time to market remains critical as well. Feature-rich devices are growing the design size.

Timing closure schedule and complexity have been increasing. In fact, up until now, timing closure solutions are said to have not kept pace with design complexity. The number of timing views are increasing with each new process node. The increased margins make timing closure very difficult. Exponential growth in design size and complexity are stretching the analysis capacity. Time in signoff closure has been increasing up to 40 percent of the design flow at 20nm.

Come Tempus!
The Tempus timing signoff solution is big on performance, accuracy and closure. For performance, it facilitates massively parallelized computation, is scalable to 100s of CPUs and there are optimized data structures. It allows up to 10X faster path-based analysis (PBA) and advanced process modeling for accuracy. Finally, for closure, it provides up to 10X reduction in closure time, is placement and routing aware and offers unlimited MMMC capacity.

Tempus offers an unprecedented performance, and handles 100s of millions of cells flat! It has an innovative hierarchical/incremental analysis. For design closure, the multi-mode, multi-corner (MMMC) is distributed or concurrent. There is physically aware optimization, such as graph- or path-based. The PBA is a detailed view of timing based on slew propagation.

With Tempus, Cadence is solving the design complexity challenge by eliminating the signoff bottleneck and enabling customers to meet their power, performance and time-to-market goals.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Semicon in sub-20nm era: Business as usual or different?

We are now entering the sub-20nm era. So, will it be business as usual or is it going to be different this time? With DAC 2013 around the corner, I met up with John Chilton, senior VP, Marketing and Strategic Development for Synopsys to find out more regarding the impact of new transistor structures on design and manufacturing, 450mm wafers and the impact of transistor variability.

Impact of new transistor structures on design and manufacturing
First, let us understand what will be the impact of new transistor structures on design and manufacturing.

Chilton said: "Most of the impact is really on the manufacturing end since they are effectively 3D transistors. Traditional lithography methods would not work for manufacturing the tall and thin fins where self-aligned double patterning steps are now required.

"Our broad, production-proven products have all been updated to handle the complexity of FinFETs from both the manufacturing and the designer’s end. From the design implementation perspective, the foundries’ and Synopsys’ goal is to provide a transparent adoption process where the methodology (from Metal 1 and above) remains essentially the same as that of previous nodes where products have been updated to handle the process complexity."

Given the scenario, will it be possible to introduce 450mm wafer handling and new lithography successfully?

According to Chilton: "This is a question best asked of the semiconductor manufacturers and equipment vendors. Our opinion is ‘very likely’." The semiconductor manufacturers, equipment vendors, and the EDA tool providers have a long history of introducing new technology successfully when the economics of deploying the technology is favorable.

The 300nm wafer deployment was quite complex, but was completed, for example. The introduction of double patterning at 20nm is another recent example in which manufacturers, equipment vendors and EDA companies work together to deploy a new technology.

Impact of transistor variability and other physics issues
Finally, what will be the impact of transistor variability and other physics issues going to be like?

Chilton said that as transistor scaling progresses into FinFET technologies and beyond, the variability of device behavior becomes more prominent. There are several sources of device variability.

Random doping fluctuations (RDF) are a result of the statistical nature of the position and the discreteness of the electrical charge of the dopant atoms. Whereas in past technologies the effect of the dopant atoms could be treated as a continuum of charge, FinFETs are so small that the charge distribution of the dopant atoms becomes ‘lumpy’ and variable from one transistor to the next.

With the introduction of metal gates in the advanced CMOS processes, random work function fluctuations arising from the formation of finite-sized metal grains with different lattice orientations have also become important. In this effect, each metal grain in the gate, whose crystalline orientation is random, interacts with the underlying gate dielectric and silicon in a different way, with the consequence that the channel electrons no longer see a uniform gate potential.

The other key sources of variability are due to the random location of traps and the etching and lithography processes which produce slightly different dimensions in critical shapes such as fin width and gate length.

"The impact of these variability sources is evident in the output characteristics of FinFETs and circuits, and the systematic analysis of these effects has become a priority for technology development and IP design teams alike," he added.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Agnisys makes design verification process extremely efficient!

Agnisys Inc. was established in 2007 in Massachusetts, USA, with a mission to deliver innovative automation to the semiconductor industry. It offers affordable VLSI design and verification tools for SoCs, FPGAs and IPs that makes the design verification process extremely efficient.

Agnisys' IDesignSpec is an award winning engineering tool that allows an IP, chip or system designer to create the register map specification once and automatically generate all possible views from it.

Various outputs are possible, such as UVM, OVM, RALF, SystemRDL, IP-XACT etc. User defined outputs can be created using Tcl or XSLT scripts. IDesignSpec's patented technology improves engineer's productivity and design quality.

The IDesignSpec automates the creation of registers and sequences guaranteeing higher quality and consistent results across hardware and software teams. As your ASIC or FPGA design specification changes, IDesignSpec automatically adjusts your design and verification code, keeping the critical integration milestones of your design engineering projects synchronized.

Register verification and sequences consume up to 40 percent of project time or more when errors are the source of re-spins of SoC silicon or an increase in the number of FPGA builds. IDesignSpec family of products is available in various flavors such as IDSWord, IDSExcel, IDSOO and IDSBatch.

IDesignSpec more than a tool for creating register models!
Speaking about IDesignSpec, Anupam Bakshi, founder, CEO and chairman, Agnisys, said: "IDesignSpec is more than a tool for creating register models. It is now a complete Executable Design Specification tool. The underlying theme is always to capture the specification in an executable form and generate as much code in the output as possible."

The latest additions in the IDesignSpec are Constraints, Coverage, Interrupts, Sequences, Assertions, Multiple Bus Domains, Special Registers and Parameterization of outputs.

"IDesignSpec offers a simple and intuitive way to specify constraints. These constraints, specified by the
user, are used to capture the design intent. This design intent is transformed into code for design, verification and software. Functional Coverage models can be automatically generated from the spec so that once again the intent is captured and converted into appropriate coverage models," added Bakshi.

Using an add-on function of capturing Sequences, the user is now able to capture various programming sequences in the spec, which are translated into C++ and UVM sequences, respectively. Further, the interrupt registers can now be identified by the user and appropriate RTL can be generated from the spec. Both edge sensitive and level interrupts can be handled and interrupts from various blocks can be stacked.

Assertions can be automatically generated from the high level constraint specification. These assertions can be created with the RTL or in the external files such that they can be optionally bound to the RTL. Unit level assertions are good for SoC level verification and debug, and help the user in identifying issues deep down in the simulation hierarchy.

The user can now identify one or more bus domains associated with Registers and Blocks, and generate appropriate code from it. Special Registers such as shadow registers and register aliasing is also automatically generated.

Finally all of the outputs such as RTL, UVM, etc., can be parameterized now, so that a single master specification can be used to create outputs that can be parameterized at the elaboration time.

How is IDesignSpec working as chip-level assertion-based verification?

Bakshi said: "It really isn’t an assertion tool! The only assertion that we automatically generate is from the constraints that the user specifies. The user does not need to specify the assertions. We transform the constraints into assertions."

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Non-mainstream packaging in MEMS, LED and power electronics

The number of MEMS and sensors going into mobile, consumer and gaming applications is expected to continue to skyrocket. As a result, OSAT and Wafer foundry players are getting more and more interest in MEMS module packaging, as volume and complexity of MEMS SiP modules is increasing dramatically, said Dr. Eric Mourier, Yole Developpement.

It implies that IDMs needs to find second source partnersand qualify some OSATs in order to secure their supply chain. Also, standardization(coming from both foundries, OSAT, WLP houses or substrate suppliers) is critical and necessary to implement in order to keep the packaging, assembly, and test cost of MEMS modules under control. There are many different players with different designs, and it’s not likely we’ll see one solution adopted by all the players.
As for wafer-level packaging (WLP) for LEDs, WLP has not been strongly deployed in the LED industry due to associated technical challenges.

In the short-term, there is ESD integration in Si substrate. In the long-term, LED drivers could be integrated at the package level for Intelligent lighting. Ultimately, there are wafer-to-wafer manufacturing schemes for certain packaget types.

Real production of HB-LEDs with a mixed approach of WLP+through silicon vias (TSV) is just starting. There are some Taiwanese players such as TSMC, Xintec, Visera, Touch MicroTech and Sibdi, and South Korea-based LG Innotek. Additional players in the semiconductor and MEMS industry are seeking to enter the field.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

SEP 2 IP-based energy management for home

What exactly is smart energy profile (SEP 2) IP-based energy management for the home? Introducing the SEP 2, Tobin Richardson, chairman and CEO, ZigBee Alliance said ZigBee smart energy is the standard of choice for home area networks (HANs).

About 40+ million ZigBee electric meters are being deployed. ZigBee smart energy is being enhanced by network/communications options, support for forward-looking developments, etc. SEP 2 is a joint effort with the HomePlug Alliance. There is a vision of MAC/PHY agnostic SmartEnergy profile.

Robby Simpson, SEP 2 Technical Working Group Chair, system architect, GE Digital Energy, provided the features and benefits of Smart Energy. Features include price communication, demand response and load control, energy usage information/metering data, prepayment metering, text messaging, plug-in electric vehicles, distributed energy resources, billing communication, etc.

Example applications are many, such as smartphones, ESI in the sky, tablets, TVs, plug-in electric vehicles, PCs, solar inverters, thermostats, energy management systems, smart meters, building management systems, smart appliances, etc. There is support for a variety of architectures. The use of IP eases convergence and architecture changes. A consortium for SEP 2 interoperability (CSEP) has been established.

Skip Ashton, ZigBee Arch. review committee chair, senior apps director, Silicon Labs said implementations of SEP 2 are available from a number of companies and across several MAC/PHYs. All standard documents are available for review.

Jeff Gooding, Southern California Edison (SCE), spoke about creating SEP 2 energy ecosysyems. SEP 2 can bridge multi-platform customer technologies to create a rich ecosystem. SEP 2 customer focused solutions can allow the utilities and energy service providers to use any customer communication channel. SEP 2 pilots at SCE include a gateway pilot and a smart charging pilot. Both are separate pilots.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

On-chip networks: Future of SoC design

Selection of the right on-chip network is critical to meeting the requirements of today’s advanced SoCs. There is easy IP integration with IP cores from many sources with different protocols, and an UVM verification environment.

John Bainbridge, staff technologist, CTO Office, Sonics Inc., said that it optimizes the system performance. Virtual channels offer efficient resource usage - saves gates and wires. The non-blocking network leads to an improved system performance. There are flexible topology choices with optimal network to match requirements.

Power management is key with advanced system partitioning, and an improved design flow and timing closure. Finally, the development environment allows easy design capture and has performance analysis tools.

Incidentally, there are several SoC integration challenges such as IP integration, frequency, throughput, physical design, power management, security, time-to-market and development costs.

SGN exceeds requirements
SGN met the tablet performance requirement with fabric frequency of 1066MHz. It has an efficient gate
count of 508K gates. There are features such as an advanced system partitioning, security and I/O coherency. There is support for system concurrency as well as advanced power management.

Sonics offers system IP solutions such as SGN, a router based NoC solution, with flexible partitioning and VC (Virtual Channel) support. The frequency is optimized with credit based flow control.

SSX/SLX is message based crossbar/ShareLink solutions based on interleaved multi-channel technology. It has target based QoS with three arbitration levels. The SonicsExpress is for power centric clock domain crossing. There is sub-system re-use and decoupling.

The MemMax manages and optimizes the DRAM efficiency while maintaining system QoS. There is run-time programmability for all traffic types. The SonicsConnect is a non-blocking peripheral interconnect.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Convergence of PV materials, test and reliability: What really matters?

SEMI, USA recently hosted the seminar on 'Convergence of PV Materials, Test and Reliability: What Really Matters?
Reliability in growing PV industry
Speaking on the importance of reliability to a growing PV industry - Sarah Kurtz, principal scientist,
Reliability group manager, NREL, said that confidence in long-term performance is a necessity in the PV industry. Current failure rates are low. There is need to demonstrate confidence so that failure rates will stay low. There has been exponential growth of the PV industry so far. PV is a significant fraction of new installations. It now represents a significant fraction of new electricity generating installations of all kinds.

How does one predict the lifetime of PV modules? There has been a qualification test evolution for JPL block buys. Most studies of c-Si modules show module failures are small. Internal electrical current issues often dominate.

The vast majority of installations show very low PV module failure rates (often less than 0.1 percent). There has been evidence that PV is low risk compared to other investments. To sustain the current installation rate, we need to demonstrate confidence that justifies the annual investment of $100 million or so.

Critical factors in economic viability of PV
DuPont has broad capabilities under one roof. It offers materials, solar cell design, and processes integrated with panel engineering. Speaking about critical factors in economic viability of PV - materials matter, Conrad Burke, global marketing director, DuPont PV Solutions, said that material suppliers have a distinct advantage to view trends. The industry can expect consolidation among large PV module producers and large materials suppliers.

There is an increasing dependence on materials suppliers for processes, tech support and roadmap. There is renewed attention to long-term reliability and quality of materials in PV products.

There is a race for survival among panel producers. There are dropping prices for solar panels, and quality is getting compromised. There are reduced incentives in established markets. The market will continue to grow. Key factors that determine investment return for PV include lifetime, efficiency and cost.

When materials fail, the consequences are dire. There are failures such as encapsulant discoloration, backsheet failure, glass delamination, etc. Average defect rates in new-build modules has been increasing. Significant number of PV installations do not deliver the projected RoI. The system lifetime is as important as cost and incentives.

Solar cell power continues to improve. There have been improvements from metal pastes and processes. Performance loss impacts the RoI. The US Department of Energy hired JPL to develop 30-year PV modules. Recent cost pressures have led to the dramatic changes in module materials and a lack of transparency.

Analyzing modules from the recent service environments show performance issues. Certification does not mitigate risk. Tests do not predict the actual field performance. He showed tier-1 solar panel manufacturing problems from China, Japan and the USA. Backsheet is critical to protect solar panels. Few materials have lengthy field experience. We will continue to see drop in prices for solar panels and opening of new markets. Focus for PV module makers will remain efficiency, etc.