ANAHEIM, Calif. The leap to sub-100 nm transistor sizes will require open design standards, closer partnerships among EDA companies and new applications that drive volume production, ARM Ltd. Chairman Robin Saxby told the Design Automation Conference here on Tuesday (June 3).
With the industry expected to reach 1-billion-transistor ASICs by 2007, Saxby warned that increasing complexity is coming just as designers and chip vendors alike face faster time-to-market pressures. Hence, the EDA industry must work together to map out process rules, improved design verification and validation and hasten development of new capabilities like deep UV technology.
"100 nm does not mark a discontinuity," Saxby said. "But it does mark the threshold of a severe increase in technical challenges in process and product design." Another big challenge, he added, "is how do we bridge the world of system-level design, silicon and software?"
A key considerati on in future sub-100 nm designs for mobile products will be power management. "Energy management is critical" and "power reduction is a critical SoC design issue," Saxby said. A key reason is that consumers care about features like battery life on cell phones. ARM has been working with partners like Synopsys to implement schemes like intelligent energy management and dynamic voltage scaling. An ARM test chip based on the collaboration was taped out in April, Saxby said.
Another design challenge is posed by emerging architectures like "network-on-chip." This scaling of complexity could lead to new capabilities such as high-capacity telecommunications networks, the ARM executive said.
Among the other emerging applications that will drive volume production are auto and medical electronics, Saxby said. "Auto electronics will be a huge user of all these transistors" for specific applications like actuators and sensors. One example is navigation systems in cars. The Global Positioning System is somewhat un stable in automotive applications. Hence, Saxby said auto systems must include enough hardware to overcome this instability.
Saxby has also promoted medical applications like drug monitoring as an emerging market that will help lead to drive to sub-100-nm devices. Smart cards that store patient information are another example.
With more information moving over wireless networks, security will also be a key consideration for designers of mobile systems, he said.
The costs of the shift to sub-100 nm transistors will be huge. Hence, Saxby stressed the need for partnering among EDA companies across multiple disciplines and the growing need to promote reuse. Too many designers spend too much time designing the same thing, Saxby said.
"Standards and reuse will emerge center stage" as transistor size drops below 100 nm, he added.