Beyond tape-out: open the dark side

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  • Authors: Philippe Morey, Frederic Brault, Jimmy Lefevre (XYALIS, Grenoble, France)
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While the various steps of chip design are well understood, what occurs after the final delivery of GDS2 or OASIS files remains a mystery for most designers. Transitioning from a layout description file to a set of photomasks is a real challenge because, unfortunately, what you see is not what you get ! This process demands complex computation on a huge amount of data and involves sophisticated algorithms to place hundreds or even thousands of additional patterns throughout the original database.

The file formats utilized during this critical phase were developed by private companies decades ago and retain the essence of the 1970s, posing increasing difficulties. Although open standards are now accessible, the semiconductor industry exhibits reluctance toward embracing change, resulting in the scarce adoption of modern formats.

While free open-source software is leveraged for various design stages, encompassing HDL compilers, place-and-route engines, simulators and more, the mask data preparation remains opaque. In this presentation, we will reveal the post-tapeout operations alongside the introduction of new standards. We anticipate that the development of open-source software at this level will catalyze the adoption of these standards and transform mask data preparation into a new playground for enthusiasts.