No single factor has contributed as much to the electronics revolution as miniaturization. The pinnacle being VLSI. At the leading edge of the technology, we are now operating at the .5-micron level. And by the turn of the century hope to touch .25 microns. The interest in VLSI growing in India. That international conferences are being held in the country is testimony to India’s commitment, as well as recognition of the developed world to its potential.
From the creation of the first fascinating chip and beyond lies a vast horizon of computing history culminating in the now emerging area of VLSI (Very Large Scale Integration) design. Causing a revolution in the microelectronic field, VLSI has become a subject of constant discussions and conferences in the recent past.
This time it was New Delhi, which hosted the five-day CSI/IEEE (Computer Society of India/ Institute of Electronic and Electrical Engineers) international symposium on VLSI design. The symposium, held in the capital from January 4-8, was the fourth in the series of VLSI conferences that had started in Madras in 1985. Since then it has come a long way, in terms of both technological advancement as well as the usage of VLSI technology in the microelectronic world. It was sponsored by the CSI and the Department of Electronics (Doe) in cooperation with the IEEE computer society as well as the Circuits and Systems Society. Over 300 delegates from around the world participated.
Breakthrough In Microelectronics
Why was VLSI been considered a break through in the field of microelectronics? The need for VLSI cannot be understated. The influence of the integrated-circuit has been far reaching in various areas ranging from consumer products to business management to manufacturing control. VLSI is the state-of-the-art integrated circuit technology that enables miniaturization such that very large and complicated circuits can be fabricated on a small monolithic piece of chip. The advent of this technology was a major breakthrough in the areas of microprocessors, micro controllers, and the next generation of computers. The symposium covered all aspects of VLSI designing and Computer Aided Design (CAD) for VLSI.
A Key To Success
The first three days of the symposium were devoted to tutorials. Since the issues to be considered in designing the analog VLSI chips and the integration of digital and analog components are a key to future success, the tutorials were divided into analog VLSI and digital VLSI parts. Analog devices such as A/D (Analog-to-Digital) and D/A (Digital-to-Analog) convertors, sensors, amplifiers and filters have to be integrated in to digital computer systems and eventually in a single chip. Also, technologies such as Digital Video Integration (DVI) may have to be integrated in the digital computing environment so that data representation can be done in a uniform manner.
Further, tutorials on digital technology were divided into two parts, viz. design strategies for the 1990s and design for testability, fault-tolerance and framework for developing VLSI tools. The pre-conference tutorials included subjects on Parallel CAD systems, HDLs (Hardware Description Languages) and Related Tools, Logic Synthesis, CAD framework, Design for Testability, Fault-Tolerant VLSI systems, Analog Circuit Technology, Analog design Automation and Analog Data Converters/Neural Nets.
The tutorials as well as the technical papers submitted were well-received by all the delegates and visitors, who were a unique and motley mix of scientists, students from various prestigious institutes all over the country and abroad, exhibitors and others. The best paper award went to P.Poechmueller and M.Glesner from Germany for their paper titled ‘A New Approach for Multilevel Logic Cell Optimization’. Among the honourable mentions were two papers: ‘ Additive Cellular Automata (CA) as a Primitive Structure for Signature Analysis’ by S.Misra and P.P. Chaudri as well as ‘Simulated Annealing-Based Channel Routing on Hypercube Computers’ by V.K.Sagar and R.E.Massara. The best design award went to Ashutosh Varma, Apurva Kalia and Sanjay Mittal of Gateway Design Automation (India) Private Limited for ‘A report on the design and implementation of a floating fodderchip’.
Fillip To VLSI?
The symposium that followed got off to a confident start after N.Vittal, secretary, Department of Electronics, Government of India, assured the audience of the Indian governments commitment to take all the necessary steps to give a fillip to the VLSI sector so that India becomes a part of the global inter linker economy. “We have set up separate VLSI design centers at 10 places manned by competent engineers”, assured Vittal. Also the Indian government has set up a National Microelectronics Council (NMC) to oversee, coordinate and support programmes covering R&D, technology, development and manufacture in the area of microelectronics especially VLSI and related fields.
The Indian government’s intention augurs well. But what do Vittal’s words mean in actual terms? Was he mouthing mere platitudes? What does the private sector feel about the government’s attitude on Development of VLSI technology in India? Wait-and-watch is the consensus that has evolved in the wary private sector, which is used to mere governmental rhetoric. Cautiously welcoming the helping hand of the government senior manager, Hinditron (GIS & Projects), opined, “I am happy about the stand taken by the Indian government. However, the long time taken by the government-red-tapism-hinders the progress of VLSI technology. VLSI is a capital-intensive technology and it has a maximum span of five years after which the technology becomes obsolete. The investors need to make fast returns and it is here that the government can help the private industry a lot by loosening the bureaucratic control, so that the awareness of VLSI technology spreads and more companies benefit by using it.”
M.M.Hassan, member of VLSI symposium technical committee, professor, Indian Institute of Technology (Kanpur) has a different solution than what Sengupta offers. Says Hassan, “So far VLSI was a tool for development. Now the availability of workstations will help in adapting VLSI design. Though the government is sinking in funds, it is true that VLSI technology becomes outdated in a short time. We can narrow down the technological gap by adopting Field Programmable Gate Array (FPGA) technology, which does away with the need of fabrication. Certainly, we have come a long way starting from the silicon wafer to the present VLSI chip. By adopting the FPGA, a large number of gates can be made on a chip it becomes ready. As far as the module is concerned, it can be imported if the government can release foreign exchange and thereby give a major fillip to the use of VLSI technology.”
The tutorials and symposium were run along with an exhibition where ten companies exhibited their wares. Among the participants were Arcus Technology Inc., Silicon Interfaces, Semiconductor Complex Ltd., CMC Ltd., Gateway Design Automation (India) Pvt. Ltd., Hew let-Packard India Pvt. Ltd., Datalab (India) Pvt. Ltd., Silicon Interfaces exhibited their products. Notable among the products on display was Vinayas, a CAD system which simplifies ASIC design by Indian Telephone Industries Ltd., Bangalore. VINAYAS is a development system for the entire range of design phases from the design capture to mask data generation SCL made their presence felt by exhibiting Beacon, which is an integrated CAD system for ASIC design. Also on display at SCL stall was IDEAS (Integrated Design Automation System) which has been developed jointly by SCL, IIT, Bombay and IIT, Delhi. IDEAS is capable of providing multiple features required for efficient design, analysis and synthesis of digital systems at various levels of abstraction. Hew let-Packard (HP) displayed its HP8200, IC evaluation system, which is a modular test system family, designed to ease the task of verification and characterization for the state-of-the-art ASICs and Ics. Depending on application, HP has three models, which offer maximum vector rates of 50MHz and 400 MHz. Also on display was Simatics-1076 by Silicon Interfaces, Bombay. Semitics 1076 is a personal computer, which converts IBM286 upwards PC or compatible, running on DOS and Microsoft windows, in to workstations-like performance.
The companies that participated in the exhibition were of the unanimous opinion that VLSI technology is going to revolutionize the microelectronic field. As Subhas Basu of Silicon interfaces aptly said, “The software is able to support multiple hierarchies. I envisage a bright future for VLSI technology.” To which K.S.Raghunathan, deputy chief engineer, CAD? VLSI group, Indian Telephone Industries Limited, emphatically added,”VLSI technology is here to stay”.
‘Design Governs Future Trends’
The symposium at Design’91 came alive with the keynote address on the ‘Impact of Design Automation on VLSI Technology’, by Prabhu Goel, president of the Systems Solutions Division of Cadence Design Systems, Inc. Founder of the Gateway Design Automation in 1982 and responsible for Gateway’s merger with Cadence Design Systems, Inc., Goel was honored as a New England Entrepreneur of the Year by Arthur Young Inc. and Inc. Magazine in 1989 after directing Gateway to three consecutive years of 100 percent growth.
His New Delhi address mainly laid emphasis on the industry’s manufacturing segment and the future impact on design automation and utilization of transistors in logic design.
Giving a historical perspective, Goel recapitulated, “During the early 1980s, the industry, that has grown around physical implementation-custom integrated circuit (custom IC), Application Specific IC (ASIC) and Printed Circuit Board (PCB)-had its IC manufacturing segment based upon small die size and higher yields. Designing was dependent upon the economical factors that governed the manufacturing of the product.”
“However,” he went on to say, “in the 90s, the trend has reversed. Sophisticated chip production and complex designs are possible so that the question of whether something can be built is governed by whether it can be designed.”
He revealed that the advances in silicon capability would result in an increase in chip density by several magnitudes and at the same time a decrease in manufacturing cost. While in 1989 an 8-inch wafer processed in 1-micron process with 80percent yielded results in 1 sq cm chips with a logic density of 4M transistors/sq inch and 120M transistors/wafers, in 1999 a 10-inch wafer processed in 0.3-micron process with 80percent yield, will provide 1 sq inch chips with logic density of 70M transistors/Wafers. With respect to the cost, 1M-byte of DRAM amounting to $27 in 1989 is expected to cost $1.10 in 1999.
While design of 1-million transistor chips is a rate feature today, by 1999 20-million transistor chips would become a common phenomenon,” explained Goes. For utilization of millions of transistors in logic design, the last decade of the 20th century will see standard architectures and array structures continuing to be available at economic prices. The designers will add value in software, revealed Goyal.
Speaking about design automation, Prabhu Goel said that in the area of design automation, stress would change from conversion of structure to silicon to conceptual transformations. The impact on design automation will involve application of tools that support automated transformations, tools that promote integration of very Complex standard blocks into complex custom systems; tools that allow analysis and optimization of inter chip interconnections. Added Goel categorically “We will use tools that treat hardware and software as alternative implementation options, not different religions.”