Bubble Gum and Scotch Tape

Vendors are making progress with 3D tools but some users say much is still manual.

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It’s always extremely interesting to talk with actual design engineers, trudging through the trenches of challenges like 3D design. Recently, I was able to speak with Robert Patti, chief technology officer, vice president of design engineering and a director at Tezzaron Semiconductor.

The company has been putting 3D designs together for quite some time so I expected to hear that they are using the very latest technology when it comes to power analysis at the architectural level. However, Patti said, “We use real sophisticated tools, usually Excel. Generally, the two tools that we rely on are Excel and SPICE. You extract run SPICE and make estimates and plug it in. The tools for 2D are fairly mature and the reality is, you can make kind of architectural stabs today.”

There are commercial tools that help with some of the partitioning and help put in power grids and whatnot to allow for estimation at some level and make sure you can wire it, he said. Mentor, Docea, Apache and others come to mind here.

However, an awful lot of this is a manual process, which relates to the chicken and egg of the tools overall. “We deal with most of the tool vendors and we have a decent tool chain to put stuff together but we are a long ways from the ideal of: here’s the Verilog description of what I want to do, I’m going to push a button and it’s going to pick the best processes, layers, size-fit it; and comes up and says ‘here’s your performance and there’s your power.’ That’s what we’d all like but that tool is years away,” Patti explained.

He pointed to Micro Magic as having a really good 3D Editor. In terms of other 3D tools, DRC and LVS are ready to go and work just the way they should. “That next step up where you start talking about synthesis, place and route – we have some stuff that works with bubble gum and scotch tape – it’s a lot of fiddling with the tools and the tools really are not at all cognizant of what you are trying to do. We have found neat ways to shortcut around the deficiencies,” he added.

What are your experiences with 3D tools? We welcome your comments, feedback and experiences.

–Ann Steffora Mutschler