The Naked Scientists

The Naked Scientists Forum

Author Topic: How can we make cheaper bespoke chips?  (Read 4220 times)

Offline thedoc

  • Forum Admin
  • Administrator
  • Sr. Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 511
  • Thanked: 11 times
    • View Profile
How can we make cheaper bespoke chips?
« on: 21/01/2011 16:16:06 »
A quicker cheaper way of making computer chips has been developed that allows small numbers of a chip to be made economically.

Read the whole story on our website by clicking here

  or Listen to the Story or [download as MP3]
« Last Edit: 21/01/2011 16:16:06 by _system »


 

Offline graham.d

  • Neilep Level Member
  • ******
  • Posts: 2208
    • View Profile
How can we make cheaper bespoke chips?
« Reply #1 on: 21/01/2011 16:49:33 »
I have not heard of this technique and KLA-Tencor do not really make equipment exactly in this area (although related to semiconductor manufacture) so this is a bit surprising. They also do not make a mention of this on their website - at least not that I could find. I note the article says they can make a whole 15" wafer in 10 minutes. This is hugely misleading; they may be able to do some patterning in this time but this will only be for 1 mask level. There will be another 30+ mask steps and some lengthy processing in between each masking stage some of which takes many hours. Anyway, the object is not to shorten the overall processing time, but to save on the expensive mask costs whilst not unduly lengthening the processing time.

If they are referring to 15" wafers, they presumably are making this a very high resolution system; say below 65nm feature size. I doubt anyone using older technology than this would be getting close to 15" wafers yet. I have to say I am a little skeptical that this is a real, practical methodology, though I have no specific theoretical objection and, if it really works, would be a good idea. I remember ES2 and the much heralded ebeam direct-write prototyping scheme. They raised a good deal of money on the back of this technique though, in practice, the service they provided often used conventional masking. I would ask for a lot of detail before I would think of investing!!
 

Offline SeanB

  • Neilep Level Member
  • ******
  • Posts: 1118
  • Thanked: 3 times
    • View Profile
How can we make cheaper bespoke chips?
« Reply #2 on: 21/01/2011 18:35:45 »
So they basically have reinvented the first mass produced silicon memory - the mask ROM.
 

Offline Geezer

  • Neilep Level Member
  • ******
  • Posts: 8328
  • "Vive la résistance!"
    • View Profile
How can we make cheaper bespoke chips?
« Reply #3 on: 21/01/2011 19:11:59 »
Here's another overview of the process.

http://www.darpa.mil/mto/programs/nanowriter/index.html

I get the impression their aim is to provide a rapid-prototyping system without masks by using a sort of multi-pixel electronic shutter. That certainly would be very useful if they can pull it off.

However, as masks would still have to be produced to manufacture the devices in high volume, they'll have to demonstrate that no re-engineering of the device is required to go from the maskless process to a masked process. I have vivid memories of fiascos involving gate arrays that were supposed to reduce time-to-market that ended up having quite the opposite effect.

 

Offline graham.d

  • Neilep Level Member
  • ******
  • Posts: 2208
    • View Profile
How can we make cheaper bespoke chips?
« Reply #4 on: 21/01/2011 22:12:58 »
Ta Geezer, that was a much better description in the reference you gave. I think the basic idea is sound technically; the overhead of mask costs at the finer geometries is prohibitive unless you are very sure of your market and require very high volumes. It is the business I'm in so I know the risks involved. Basically, when you complete a design you end up with all the layout data for the chip in viewable layers on the screen of a computer. Much of the layout is routed automatically (at least for digital) and all the layout is checked for Design Rule Errors (DRC) and the layout verified against the tested design database (only partially schematics nowadays) (LVS) and this in turn will have been verified by simulation at various levels. The procedure is that when the design is complete and verified as well as possible (which is never 100% unfortunately) the layout database is used to produce the masks that are needed to produce the devices. Instead of making the masks the same dat can be used to drive an ebeam writing gizmo directly. If the design needs changing you normally need to make another set of the expensive masks but, in this case, you use the data to drive the gizmo woth the new pattern instead. The reason masks are expensive is because the mask making machines are expensive but you only use them once and re-use the mask multiple times. In this case you tie up the ebeam gizmo a lot in making each wafer; I don't suppose it will be cheap. The economics are not obvious when you go into it. It does save the cost of some equipment so may be cost effective for small volume production though, as I implied before, I would need to be convinced.

They can use this to pattern every level I assume, Sean, so it need not be restricted to a single level masked ROM. It would certainlly be most efficient if used on a coventionally masked gate array (made in high volume) so as just to pattern the metal and via layers though. It will be interesting to see if it takes off or if it attracts significant investment.
 

Offline jennyjuan

  • First timers
  • *
  • Posts: 4
    • View Profile
How can we make cheaper bespoke chips?
« Reply #5 on: 22/01/2011 04:17:35 »
Does that really happen? waiting for it coming true.
 

Offline Geezer

  • Neilep Level Member
  • ******
  • Posts: 8328
  • "Vive la résistance!"
    • View Profile
How can we make cheaper bespoke chips?
« Reply #6 on: 22/01/2011 05:52:42 »
It will be interesting to see if it takes off or if it attracts significant investment.

"Nanowriter will enable affordable and timely production of state-of-the art ICs in small lots entirely within secure facilities."

I think this might explain why the US government (through DARPA) is investing in it.
 
 

Offline graham.d

  • Neilep Level Member
  • ******
  • Posts: 2208
    • View Profile
How can we make cheaper bespoke chips?
« Reply #7 on: 22/01/2011 09:41:12 »
I'm afraid to say that the US government does not always make sensible investments. They often back a lot of horses in a race because they have the money. There are also often political forces and, dare I say it, influencial beneficiaries involved. I note the investment is in an Isreali company for example so helps in providing "legitimate" funding.

ASs an aside, I also have a slightly tarnished view here as someone who lost a large chunk of money investing in an Israeli semiconductor venture where the directors made a lot of money but the smaller startup investors lost everything; and, it seems, all quite legally.

Does what really happen, Jenny? I didn't understand your question.
 

Offline Geezer

  • Neilep Level Member
  • ******
  • Posts: 8328
  • "Vive la résistance!"
    • View Profile
How can we make cheaper bespoke chips?
« Reply #8 on: 22/01/2011 18:55:12 »
ASs an aside, I also have a slightly tarnished view here as someone who lost a large chunk of money investing in an Israeli semiconductor venture where the directors made a lot of money but the smaller startup investors lost everything; and, it seems, all quite legally.

I have a similarly jaundiced view of senior managers using their public corporations as personal cash registers. Ah, the stories I could tell (if I could afford to get sued  :D).
 

The Naked Scientists Forum

How can we make cheaper bespoke chips?
« Reply #8 on: 22/01/2011 18:55:12 »

 

SMF 2.0.10 | SMF © 2015, Simple Machines
SMFAds for Free Forums