Following the rules for faster integrated circuit design

// Electrical & Computer Engineering

Tags: CAD tools, computer aided design, Electrical and computer engineering, Integrated circuit design, microprocessors, Moore's law, routing

photo of Azadeh Davoodi
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With support from a $400,000 National Science Foundation grant, Azadeh Davoodi, an associate professor of electrical and computer engineering at UW-Madison, is creating tools to accelerate the emergence of advanced microprocessors.

“In terms of how long it takes to prepare a product that you can fabricate and send to market, it’s important to make the final stage of circuit design as efficient as possible,” says Davoodi. “We plan to do that by providing a better input.”

Circuit design progresses through multiple stages, each more detailed than the last. Linking up components in fine-scale layouts, called detailed routing, is one of the last steps before fabrication. Detailed routing takes time, usually because the computer-aided design (CAD) tools at the previous, global stage ignore rules about what can and cannot be made in modern foundries.

Currently, global routing design tools do not take modern rules into account—which then delays later stages. Initial schemes for integrated circuits produced by the tools Davoodi is developing should speed through the detailed routing stages because the initial designs already accommodate real-world constraints.

As fabrication facilities become more and more sophisticated, the number of elements a single chip can accommodate has increased exponentially, just as predicted by Moore’s law. But because advanced production facilities must operate with utmost precision, design constraints for integrated circuits have also skyrocketed.

“There’s so much new innovation in terms of fabrication, but the design tools at higher levels have not caught up,” says Davoodi. “There’s almost a Moore’s law for the number of pages in the design rulebook.”

Davoodi plans to make the design programs she creates freely accessible for the research community. She also is developing infrastructure to facilitate integration between academic and industry software. Students at UW-Madison will be able to contribute to the project and gain firsthand experience using real-world CAD tools as modules in both an undergraduate and a graduate level course.

Author: Sam Million-Weaver