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What To Look For In Integrated Circuit Design Tools

What To Look For In Integrated Circuit Design Tools

Integrated Circuit (IC) design tools are used by electrical engineers and designers to create integrated circuits, which play an important role in more electronic devices than you can imagine. These tools help designers translate innovative ideas for new functions into integrated circuits (also referred to as semiconductors); they are utilized in a variety of applications that include consumer electronics, automobiles, medical devices, aerospace, as well as military and defense. IC design tools belong to a class of software typically considered as Electronic Design Automation (EDA) tools. These EDA tools are sometimes classified as belonging to the computer aided engineering (CAE) software tool category as well.Some important criteria to consider when selecting IC design tools include their ease of use, operating platform, use of industry standard file formats, as well as total cost of ownership.

Ease of use is an important consideration in selecting IC design tools, as this has a direct impact on the productivity of the designer. Selecting a tool that contains the necessary level of features and performance is ideal; as tools offering too many features can cause confusion and delay. The operating platform of the tools is important; as users want to be able to install and operate the tools in an efficient manner. Selecting a tool that runs on mainstream operating systems such as Microsoft Windows and Linux is important for high productivity and quick ramp-up. Ensuring a tool uses industry standard file formats is also critical; as a designer typically needs to share files with other designers and with a semiconductor foundry.

A standard database format developed by the Si2 consortium – Open Access – is often a consideration for designers looking to ensure compatibility with legacy data across CAD/CAE tools. Finally, total cost of ownership – including elements of software purchase, hardware platform, annual maintenance, training and system administration must all be considered.

When looking for the right IC design tools, one must consider the entire workflow or design process. Purchasing an integrated design tool from a single software vendor can help ensure quality of the user interface and tool interoperability. The process to follow when utilizing IC design tools to build an analog circuit includes:

  • Schematic entry
  • Simulation
  • Physical layout
  • Physical verification (1st pass design rule checking)
  • Post-layout simulation (parasitic extraction)
  • Physical verification (electrical rule checking and layout versus schematic)

An engineer or designer will often use different IC design tools and a slightly different process depending on the cell being analog or digital. For a digital cell (or block), the following design steps include:

  • Behavioral simulation
  • SynthesisCreation of gate models (gate-level simulation)
  • Floor planning (for size estimation)
  • Loading estimation
  • Simulation with estimated back-annotation
  • Place and Route (P&R)
  • Design Rule Checking (DRC)
  • Extraction (applying rules and parameters)
  • Simulation with actual back-annotation
  • Design export
  • Final test and sign-off

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