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Geopolitical tensions; fab updates; reverse engineering surprises; interconnect updates; acquisitions

Friday, August 5th, 2022

Catching up on some of the news from the last thirty days or so, several updates obviously concern U.S.-China tensions. As far as the semiconductor industry is concerned, news includes additional export restriction being considered by the U.S Government to halt China’s advances in semiconductor manufacturing, but the intricacies of a globalized ecosystem may cause side effects. According to analysts quoted by Reuters, export restrictions could also impact China-based memory fabs belonging to South Korean manufacturers such as Samsung and SK Hynix. A similar impact could be caused by export restrictions on European semiconductor equipment: for example – according to Reuters – the export ban has prevented SK Hynix from installing ASML’s EUV lithography equipment in its DRAM fab in Wuxi, China. Meanwhile, China’s IC sales keep increasing: according to market analysis firm TrendForce, the growth rate was 17% in 2020, 18.2% in 2021 and it is expected to be 11.21% in 2022.

Fab and foundry updates: SkyWater, Micron, ST-GlobalFoundries, IFS-MediaTek, Intel-TSMC

Also related to geopolitical tensions is the recent passing of the U.S. ‘Chips and Science Act’. Some companies have already announced their intentions to leverage this public funding measure: among them, U.S. foundry SkyWater plans to build a $1.8 billion semiconductor R&D and production facility in Indiana through a public-private partnership with the State and Purdue University; and U.S. memory maker Micron Technology intends to invest “in bringing the most innovative leading-edge memory manufacturing to the U.S.” More details regarding Micron’s plans are expected in the coming weeks.

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A quick look at the DAC 2022 conference program

Friday, July 8th, 2022

The Design Automation Conference is back to its usual summer timeframe – again at the Moscone Center in San Francisco – with over one hundred exhibitors and a rich conference program that covers a wide range of topics including artificial intelligence, autonomous systems, Risc-V, security, embedded systems and more. Here we will briefly highlight some of the conference content more directly related to EDA, referring readers to the conference program for the detailed schedule.

EDA vendors’ top executives on stage: keynotes and panels

As usual, the DAC will offer attendees the opportunity to listen to EDA vendors’ top executives and – to some extent – to ask them questions. This year’s keynoters will include Anirudh Devgan, Cadence CEO, speaking about “Computational Software and the Future of Intelligent Electronic System Design”. More EDA executives will give speeches as part of a series called SKYTalks: Joe Sawicki from Siemens EDA (“Delivering ‘Smarter’ Faster: The Future of EDA & AI”), and Sandeep Mehndiratta from Synopsys (“It’s Getting Cloudy Out There”). Among the panels featuring EDA vendor executives, the top spot obviously goes to John Cooley’s DAC Troublemaker Panel, offering attendees the opportunity to hear “edgy questions” being asked to Joe Sawicki (Siemens EDA), Tom Beckley (Cadence), Dean Drako (IC Manage), Prakash Narain (Real Intent), Tony Chan Carusone (Alphawave IP) and Sam Appleton (Ausdia).

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Samsung’s 3-nm GAA in production; training large NLP models on a single Cerebras device; reducing metal line resistance

Friday, July 1st, 2022

Quick updates on the impact of Ukraine war. Global exports of semiconductors to Russia have reportedly slumped by 90% due to export controls. And U.S. Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo has reportedly threatened to “shut down” China’s SMIC foundry if it is found to be supplying chips to Russia. “We will shut them down and we can, because almost every chip in the world and in China is made using U.S. equipment and software,” she said. Moving to new fab updates, Taiwan’s GlobalWafers will reportedly invest $5 billion on a new plant in Sherman, Texas, to make 300-millimeter silicon wafers, switching to the United States after a failed investment on Germany’s Siltronic.

Samsung’s 3-nm GAA in production

Samsung Electronics has announced that it has started initial production of its 3-nanometer process node applying its Gate-All-Around (GAA) transistor architecture called Multi-Bridge-Channel FET (MBCFET), enabling a supply voltage reduction and a higher drive current capability. Initial applications are targeting high performance, low power computing, with plans to expand to mobile processors. According to the company, Samsung’s proprietary technology – which utilizes nanosheets with wider channels – allows higher performance and greater energy efficiency compared to GAA technologies using nanowires with narrower channels. However, channel width in Samsung’s 3nm GAA technology can be adjusted to obtain various power/performance combinations. Compared to 5nm process, Samsung claims that the first-generation 3nm process can reduce power consumption by up to 45%, improve performance by 23% and reduce area by 16%; the second-generation 3nm process is expected to reduce power consumption by up to 50%, improve performance by 30% and reduce area by 35%.

Photo: Business Wire

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New fab rumors; TSMC’s innovations; low-temperature 3D chip bonding; new optical microphone

Friday, June 24th, 2022

The so-called metaverse now has its standardization initiative: called Metaverse Standards Forum, it brings together a few dozen founding members including Meta (Facebook), Microsoft and Nvidia – but, as noted by Reuters, the member list currently does not include Apple. However, “the Forum is open to any company, standards organization, or university at no charge,” says the announcement press release, so never say never. Let’s now move to our usual news round-up, that this week includes a couple of interesting academic works.

Quick EDA updates

Keysight’s PathWave RFPro, integrated with the Synopsys Custom Compiler design environment, is enabled to support TSMC’s newest N6RF Design Reference Flow.

Pulsic has added new features to its Unity product. Among them, Unity Chip Planning technology now can handle incremental floorplans; and the embedded integrations with Cadence Virtuoso and Synopsys Custom Compiler allow users to access Unity directly from these systems.

Cadence’s Design IP offering has already achieved over twenty design wins in TSMC’s 5nm process technology, with multiple first-pass silicon successes.

Xpeedic has recently released its latest RF EDA/Filter Design Platform 2022.

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Backside power delivery; GaN-on-Si for 5G; Apple’s M2; new Fraunhofer center

Thursday, June 16th, 2022

Geopolitical issues keep making news: a team of U.S. investors, scientists, operators, and national security experts has founded America’s Frontier Fund (AFF), described as “the nation’s first non-profit strategic investment fund focused on building and scaling breakthrough deep-tech companies and platforms for the national interest.”. Led by CEO and co-founder Gilman Louie, AFF intends to counter “authoritarian nations” that “are committed to out-spending and out-innovating the U.S. to gain military and economic superiority.” The fund’s initial areas of focus will include microelectronics, artificial intelligence, new materials, quantum sciences, next generation networks (5G/6G), advanced manufacturing, and synthetic biology. Let’s now move to other news updates, this week with a significant presence of European research centers.

Imec demonstrates backside power delivery with buried power rails

Belgian research institute Imec has demonstrated a routing scheme for logic ICs with backside power delivery enabled through nano-through-silicon-vias (nTSVs) landing on buried power rails (BPRs). The BPRs connect to scaled FinFET devices whose performance was not impacted by backside wafer processing. The novel routing scheme with decoupled power and signal wiring acts as a scaling booster for future logic technologies (2nm and beyond), as the nTSVs land on BPRs with tight overlay control and are implemented at a tight pitch of 200nm without consuming any area of the standard cell. The solution also offers a system performance benefit by improving the power delivery, as it reduced IR voltage drop. Additionally, Imec demonstrated a performance boost by implementing a 2.5D MIMCAP (metal-insulator-metal capacitor) in the backside serving as a decoupling capacitor. Backside power delivery – using the back side of the wafer to route power lines, in order to alleviate routing congestion on the front side and reduce IR voltage drop – can be implemented in different ways; Imec believes that combining it with buried power rails is the most promising implementation scheme.

TEM image showing scaled FinFET devices connected to the wafer’s backside (through nTSVs and BPR) and frontside (through BPR, VBPR and MOA). Copyright: Imec

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AI/ML-based optimization; free GPU and DLA IPs; easier I3C adoption

Thursday, June 9th, 2022

According to Reuters reports on the impact of Ukraine war, more U.S. tech companies are leaving Russia: Microsoft is substantially cutting its activity in the country, while IBM is closing its Russian business and has started to lay off its employees. Russia, for its part, has limited exports of noble gases including neon – used in chip fabrication – until the end of 2022. Exports will be allowed only with special State permission. Let’s now move to our usual tech news round-up, starting with a brief update on TSMC’s roadmap: the Taiwanese foundry has reportedly chosen the nanosheet transistor architecture for its next 2-nanometer node starting in 2025. As for EDA, the use of artificial intelligence/machine learning in chip design is in the spotlight this week with two significant announcements.

Synopsys’ machine learning-based design optimization solution

Synopsys has introduced DesignDash, a design optimization solution based on machine learning and big data analytics. According to the company, DesignDash enhances design productivity in different ways: by providing real-time design status through visualizations and interactive dashboards; deploying deep analytics and machine learning to extract and reveal actionable understanding from vast volumes of structured and unstructured EDA metrics and tool-flow data; classifying design trends, identifying design limitations, providing guided root-cause analysis and delivering flow consumable, prescriptive resolutions. The solution complements the Synopsys SiliconDash product, part of the Synopsys Silicon Lifecycle Management Family.

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War impact on EVs; China’s AI chips investments; Meta-Broadcom deal; ORNL’s exaflop computer

Thursday, June 2nd, 2022

China is among the themes of this week’s roundup, with news concerning both its richly funded AI chip providers and – despite growing geopolitical tensions – its attractiveness for European investments.

Merck to build a new site in China

Germany-based Merck KGaA has reportedly signed a contract to open a base in the Chinese city of Zhangjiagang, describing it as its largest single electronics business investment in the country. In the new site, a 69-acre lot, Merck will build production facilities for thin film materials and electronic specialty gasses, along with a warehouse and operation centers. “China is currently the fastest growing semiconductor manufacturing market worldwide,” Merck China President Allan Gabor reportedly said in a statement. “We believe a golden era for China’s semiconductor industry has just begun,” he added.

Will Ukraine war accelerate transition to electric vehicles?

War in Ukraine is causing a shortage of wire harnesses – the complex and heavy cable bundles connecting all the electrical/electronics components of a vehicle – as the Eastern European country is a major supplier of these products. The shortage could accelerate transition from traditional vehicle network architectures based on “domain ECUs” to the new architectures based on “zonal ECUs”, which enable a dramatic simplification of vehicle wiring. This, at least, is the opinion of the industry experts quoted in a recent Reuters report. Simpler and lighter cable bundles would reduce carmakers dependence on Ukraine and other countries with a low labor cost, but their adoption would require redesigning the vehicles’ data and power networks. This could prompt a quicker phase-out of gasoline and diesel vehicles, as carmakers would rather not invest money in redesigning products that are approaching the end of their lives. Zonal ECUs are also paving the way to new wiring technologies such as the flexible circuits developed by CelLink (San Carlos, CA), already being used in ‘native’ electric cars.

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Arm record numbers; RF GaN-on-Si; security partnerships; new AI chips; Broadcom acquires VMware

Thursday, May 26th, 2022

Catching up on some of the news from the last twenty days or so, let’s start with Intel: the company’s shareholders have reportedly rejected compensation packages for top executives, including a payout of as much as $178.6 million to CEO Pat Gelsinger.

Advances to Real Intent’s Meridian DFT

Real Intent has announced advances to its “Meridian DFT” multimode DFT static sign-off tool with root cause analysis. Meridian DFT now presents the results as tables, with detailed coverage reporting for violating registers, design instances with the most uncovered faults, and selected test points per test mode. It also annotates coverage debug attributes per test mode for controllability, observability, and stuck-at-0/1 faults. Additionally, the new version includes tables with hyperlinks for cross-probing of nets and instances to the schematic or source code viewer. Real Intent has also made additions to Meridian DFT’s rules, including specialized rules for sequential capture through loops and deep sequences of flip-flops without scan collars, controllability and observability through memories, and advanced connectivity checks.

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Deep learning acceleration – trends and news from the Linley Spring Processor Conference

Thursday, May 19th, 2022

The Linley Spring Processor Conference 2022 – which took place last April 20th and 21st – saw the participation of numerous sponsor companies, many of them offering deep learning acceleration solutions. This week EDACafe takes a quick look at the conference content, mostly focusing on some technology trends and some new announcements. Full proceedings of the event can be accessed from www.linleygroup.com, the website of the technology analysis firm now owned by Canadian reverse engineering company TechInsights.

Ever-growing NLP models

In his keynote speech, TechInsights’ principal analyst Linley Gwennap pointed out that language-processing models keep growing at an impressive pace: Alibaba’s M6 has 10 trillion parameters. Model size is limited by training time (compute cycles): for example, training the GPT-3 model using one thousand A100 GPUs takes more than one month. Rapid growth has been achieved by moving to large and very expensive clusters. Recent progress focuses on adding parameters using fewer GPU cycles: for example, Alibaba reports training M6 required only 15% the time of smaller GPT-3. Training can be accelerated through ‘model sharding’, which divides a model across many chips. This requires complex software, possibly with manual assistance. Scaling massive models across servers and racks, sharding requires high-bandwidth connections.

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Geopolitical issues; controversy over deep learning in EDA; high-NA EUV advancements; new RGB display

Thursday, May 5th, 2022

Politicians around the world are getting increasingly involved in initiatives aimed at boosting or protecting their countries’ competitiveness in the semiconductor market. This is why ‘geopolitical’ issues make up a significant part of this week’s news round-up. Other updates concern the controversial Google paper on deep learning-based chip block placing, high-NA EUV advancements, and more.

Geopolitical issues: Arm IPO, Indian investments, Alphawave-OpenFive deal

UK prime minister Boris Johnson has reportedly joined a final push to convince Arm – which is currently preparing its IPO – to list on the London stock exchange, as the UK government is concerned over the damage if Britain’s best-known tech company chooses New York for its initial public offering. SoftBank chief executive Masayoshi Son, however, has reportedly described New York’s Nasdaq exchange as “the most suitable” as it is “at the center of global high-tech”.

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