Synopsys has joined ARM, IBM, Chartered Semiconductor and Samsung in a programme intended to get the 32nm Common Platform off to a running start. The EDA company will use the Lynx design environment that it built in the past few years to hook together a ready-made flow that will act as the gateway to production at the Common Platform foundries. ARM, naturally, will supply libraries and IP cores that have been tried out on test chips.
By providing a ready-made environment, the aim is to pull customers into 32nm design much more quickly than they might have without having this kind of support, according to Kevin Meyer, vice president of marketing at Chartered. "We believe customers can come to this technology a full year earlier," he claimed.
IBM is placing a bet that 32nm will provide the breakthrough for Common Platform. The shift to a high-k, metal-gate transistor may provide the technical advantage that Common Platform needs over TSMC, the current leader in foundry production. TSMC plans to bring in a 28nm process with a high-k, metal-gate but IBM has a little more experience in that department having worked on it for an internal 45nm process, although that never saw the light of day as a Common Platform-supported process.
The 32nm node could prove to be an important one, much like 130nm or 65nm are today. Mark Ireland, vice president at IBM Semiconductor Platforms, said companies are increasingly skipping nodes.
The conclusion is that they are more likely to skip from 65nm to 32nm for a density increase rather than to 45nm or 40nm. There are some doubts as to how easy it will be to move to 22nm if some techniques to produce accurate images on the chips do not work.
"From what we have seen, 32nm will be a very long lived node. There is a lot of excitement about it and a lot of companies will be skipping to 32nm," Ireland claimed.
The rise of chip design in Asia is playing a large role in the decision to roll out this kind of environment. Meyer pointed to the large number of 65nm designs being done now in the Far East. China is picking up steam in this department, partly helped by attractive subsidies for companies to perform advanced designs in that country. This has encouraged companies that used to buy off-the-shelf chips to do their own and push towards the advanced nodes to get the per-die price down.
Normally, EDA companies hang back from doing this kind of advanced work. It's generally better to see the colour of the customer's money before ploughing in a lot of development. John Chilton, senior vice president of marketing at Synopsys refused to discuss the commercial arrangement that brought the company into the Common Platform fold. But it is interesting that there is only one EDA company there - TSMC has been very careful to maintain neutrality when dealing with the major EDA companies when putting together its reference flows.
Driving demand is very important for the foundries - this deal provides a way of easing access to what will be a tricky process to design for. But the commercial arrangements will be very sensitive. ARM is in a pitched battle with Intel to provide the dominant architecture for mobile Internet devices, exactly the target for the 32nm and 28nm Common Platform processes. The Common Platform axis has aligned itself around ARM and its IP - TSMC is the foundry of choice for Intel Atoms. But Synopsys is the 'official' primary tool supplier to Intel as well as for this programme. Or was that the former primary tool supplier to Intel?