Free chip design kit for exploring next-gen ICs

September 02, 2021 // By Rich Pell
Free chip design kit for exploring next-gen ICs
Researchers from NC State University and electronic design automation company Synopsys have unveiled a new computer chip design kit to facilitate the development of new chips.

The kit, FreePDK3, is a set of libraries and scripts that were developed to work with the Synopsys Fusion Design Platform and Custom Design Platform to help people design state-of-the-art chips needed to move the field of chip design forward. It is being made freely available in order to encourage growth and innovation in the field.

“The geometry of transistors has changed dramatically over the past seven years,” says Rhett Davis, a professor of computer engineering at NC State who led the project. “Many people say transistors are now only three nanometers (nm) long - which isn’t actually true."

"But what is true," says Davis, "is that transistors are substantially taller now than they were even seven years ago, and are stacked on each other, creating a complex array of three-dimensional circuit architectures. Because chip architecture is so complex, you need specialized tools that enable that level of chip design. Our kit, called FreePDK3, makes that kind of chip design possible."

“FreePDK3 allows chip designers to explore new ideas, while keeping them within the bounds of what is physically possible," says Davis. "And it is free - no strings attached.”

The researchers had previously issued FreePDK45 in 2007 and FreePDK15 in 2014. Those versions of the software have been used for educational purposes at hundreds of institutions, and are referenced in more than 900 scholarly articles and book chapters.

FreePDK3 was developed at NC State with financial and technical support from Synopsys.

Patrick Haspel, global program director, Academic Partnerships and University Programs at Synopsys adds, "Our collaboration with academic institutions like North Carolina State University helps nurture the next generation of semiconductor and electronic design engineers - filling a critical demand for new talent in an ever-changing industry. NC State’s novel, open-source process design kit represents a compelling example of how our work together provides students with practical experience on advanced technologies that will be beneficial to the industry."


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