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15nm process design kit spurs innovation

Posted: 18 Aug 2014 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:15nm? PDK? FreePDK? optical lithography?

North Carolina State University developed a free process design kit (PDK) for optical lithography at the 15nm node.

NC State had previously released a 45nm PDK that has been used for seven years by thousands of universities and start-ups around the world, but the new kit includes a more complete set of tools that anyone can download to design state-of-the-art chips and tools.

"Our goal was to provide a process design kit that mimics the complexity of a PDK you would get from any technology vendor, which includes the customisation you need to create a design from start to finish in the toolset from any vendor," Professor Rhett Davis, a project leader and electrical and computer engineering researcher at NC State, told EE Times.

15nm vertical bars

The transistors for a NAND gate are formed by 15nm vertical bars (red), with the entire circuit (dotted lined) is about 1? (or 1,000nm). (Source: Rhett Davis)

Thousands of designs and specialised tools were created using the previous PDK, which is especially easy to use since it is compatible for free to both universities and NanGate's 15nm Open Cell Library members of the Silicon Integration Initiative Si2. FreePDK15 can be used with any electronic design automation (EDA) tool, but has been specifically adapted for turn-key operation the top three.

"We support the toolsets from a small number of vendors, Cadence Virtuoso, Synopsis PyCell, Mentor Graphics Calibur, but we have tried to make it generic so it could be reimplemented on any set of tools and we encourage people to do that," Davis told EE Times.

The main motivation for bringing FreePDK up to date were three new methods universities want to teach their students. Davis cited FinFETS, middle-of-the-line layers, and double patterning as common methods available in the new 15nm PDK.

FreePDK15

The FreePDK15 tool can handle back-end-of-line, middle-of-line, and front-end-of-line structures. (Source: NCSU)

There are no confidentiality agreements that have to be signed to download FreePDK15, which is a major impediment to universities just wanting to learn how to design chips and start-ups wanting to design tools.

Davis was assisted in the creation of FreePDK15 by a team of students, private sector volunteers, and fellow NC State professor Paul Franzon.

- R. Colin Johnson
??EE Times





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