Jun 26, 2014

TSVs: Like Vias, Only 1000X Deeper

posted by Bryon Moyer

We recently looked at Applied Materials’ solution to the challenges of lining small vias: using cobalt. But those are through-dielectric vias. What about through-silicon vias (TSVs)? After all, they can be a thousand times deeper than a standard via, so if a standard via is hard to cover, imagine how hard it must be for a TSV.

Of course, we’re talking a wider via, but AMAT says that standard physical vapor deposition (PVD) tools do an inadequate job of coating the TSVs when applying the barrier, for lots of the same reasons we discussed in the cobalt story.

Their solution to the TSV issue isn’t quite as radical as a new metal; it involves tightening up the angle of dispersion for the metals, providing better coverage. With better coverage, the barrier can also be made thinner, saving cost. A thinner layer is faster to deposit, improving throughput (and reducing cost).

Figure.png

 

(Image courtesy Applied Materials)

In addition, they’ve built a production-worthy chamber for use with titanium rather than the more typical “proven” tantalum. Titanium apparently being cheaper than tantalum. Both can be integrated with the copper seed.

You can read more about their Ventura PVD in their announcement.

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Jun 17, 2014

Synopsys’s IP Initiative

posted by Bryon Moyer

IP used to refer to hardware designs that could be purchased off the shelf. Actually, at first they were designs that wouldn’t really work for any real application without a consulting contract to adapt them. But, over time, “shrink wrapped” became more viable. The idea was to save design time.

That idea still holds, but we’ve replaced one problem – design of individual blocks – with another: assembling all of the IP blocks into a complete system. And these IP blocks are more than your grampa’s simple fast Fourier transform; these are typically complete protocols that need to run a software stack.

Once assembled, the system will run the system software that’s being written for the SoC in parallel with the hardware design –software that’s separate from, and likely makes use of, the shrink-wrapped protocol libraries that may accompany the hardware IP.

So the full project development process involves hardware designers getting hardware running – first in prototypes, then in silicon. Meanwhile, software guys are coding away, using both virtual prototypes of the hardware and, eventually, the hardware prototypes that the hardware buys built.

In order to accommodate this more complex flow, Synopsys has announced their IP Initiative. It involves a more holistic view of how IP is integrated into SoCs, and the idea is to make the IP and accompanying elements work out of the box so no time is wasted on things that have already been completed – all of the effort can go into integration.

The image below shows the bigger picture of what they’re trying to accomplish. It includes both existing elements (like the hardware IP) and new elements being released as of the announcement, like the prototyping kits.

Figure.png

The IP prototyping kits are intended for hardware engineers, and they include a working reference design out-of-the-box on a HAPS board. IP licencees will have access to the accompanying IP RTL. Meanwhile, the IP software development kits include tools and virtual platform models of the IP that, again, work out-of-the-box.

The final bit, customized IP subsystems, gets to the challenges of putting all of these pieces together and coaxing them to work. Individual IP blocks work out of the box, but assembling them into an SoC isn’t trivial. Synopsys offers services to help create subsystems out of blocks.

You can read more about their offering in their announcement.

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Jun 16, 2014

What is a technology company?

posted by Dick Selwood

Am I being picky or over-sensitive? A recent report talks about how Europe has produced 30 technology companies worth more than $1bn. They include "Clothing retailer Asos, games studio King Digital, property portfolio Zoopla and music service Spotify." Are these technology companies? Zoopla's core business is pulling together into a single web site, property listings from a wide range of sources. They do have other service for the estate agents whose properties they advertise and there is serious technology underlying this, but if you look at their job ads, of the 15 on the site today, only two are for technologists (Perl and Python developers). The rest are for people involved in the business of getting more ads onto their site and more users to the site.

Again Asos, which claims to be the most visited fashion and beauty website in the world, is in rag trade- it exists to sell clothes. Again serious underlying technology, but that is not the point.

Europe does have technology companies, ARM and Imagination, Infineon, STMicroelectronics are companies who create technology. So are companies who build systems using their products, such as Thales.

All financial organisations use massive amounts of technology: high frequency trading- a technology for gaming the markets that is under a great deal of critical scrutiny but somehow seems to be unstoppable - exploits mind staggering technologies, but even retail banking would be  impossible without technology, yet these companies are not labelled as technology companies.

Confusing companies who use technology to deliver a product or service with companies who create technology seems dangerous. When the dotcom bubble burst it was companies using technologies who were the problem, but the companies who create technology were equally hammered by the stock markets.

Since there is nothing we can do about it, I suppose I should just ignore it all and keep my fingers crossed that when this bubble bursts, real technology companies survive.

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