A Brief History of Test

Automatic test equipment dates back to the founding of Teradyne in 1960.


The history of semiconductor test systems is the subject of this blog post. We’ll turn to printed circuit board testing at another time.

Boston-based Teradyne sold its D133 diode tester to Raytheon in 1961. Five years later, it introduced the J259 integrated circuit tester, which had a minicomputer to run the test programs. For many, this marks the beginning of automatic (or automated) test equipment, or ATE, in the semiconductor industry.

Teradyne prospered in the ATE business, given some competition from Fairchild Test Systems (originally a division of Fairchild Semiconductor) and Japan’s Takeda Riken Industries, which fielded its 10-megahertz LSI Test System T-320/20 in 1972. Takeda Riken changed its name to Advantest in 1985.

Fairchild and Teradyne alumni spread out and started their own ATE companies. Former Teradyne employees began LTX in 1976. Across the Atlantic, SPEA got its start by a former General Electric employee in 1976 and got into the chip testing market in 1995. Semiconductor Test Solutions got off the ground in 1978, offering testers compatible with Fairchild’s Sentry test systems; in 1990, STS acquired ASIX Systems and Axiom Technology, changing its name to Credence Systems. LTX provided funding for an ATE startup in Silicon Valley, Trillium, which found success in selling microprocessor testers to Intel. Its president, Michael Chalkley, was murdered in 1985 and his body was dumped into San Francisco Bay; the body was found near the Berkeley Marina two weeks later. LTX would eventually acquire Trillium.

The 21st century has seen significant consolidation in the ATE business. Fairchild Test Systems became Schlumberger ATE became Schlumberger Semiconductor Systems became NPTest, which was acquired by Credence in 2004. LTX and Credence merged in 2008, forming LTX-Credence, and the combined company now is part of Xcerra, which acquired Everett Charles Technologies and Multitest in 2013. Hewlett-Packard spun off Agilent Technologies in 1999, Agilent spun off Verigy in 2006, and Verigy was in the process of being acquired by LTX-Credence in 2010 when Advantest swooped in with an offer of $1.1 billion in cash, closing the transaction in 2011.

Teradyne has occasionally pursued acquisitions over the years, buying Megatest in 1995, purchasing Eagle Test Systems and Nextest in 2008, and acquiring LitePoint in 2011.

These days, the chip testers are a lot faster and the test heads are much smaller. And so it goes.

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David says:

No mention of GenRad 227x systems or the smaller ones by Hp, Plessey, GEC etc ?

David Silva says:

It is sad that the only detail of Trillium is that it’s president was murdered. My father was a founder and the company did quite well after Michael’s death. And after LTX purchased them the Trillium division ended up making more revenue than the rest of the company with far fewer resources- largely because LTX kept laying off Trillium workers rather than their home East Coast employees. I’m obviously biased, but I believe my points would stand up to scrutiny.

Ross R. Youngblood says:

I worked on one of the first Trillium systems for Motorola ASIC. We had the first ArrayMaster which pre-dated the Micromaster that Intel purchased.
The software on these systems has yet to be matched.

John Horner says:

Tektronix also had a pretty large test equipment business which was sold/given to Credence in the early 1990s.

Nick Langston says:

In the late 70’s sold the Tek 3030 then 3200’s. Then moved to Accutest and then Megatest had to go when the Mega1 was introduced. I remember the Cherry Hill Test Conference the forerunner to ITC. So hot in the exhibition room all the testers had to shut down. Many others Xincom, Macrodata, MicroContro.

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