Researchers roll out free software to advance computer chip design

Aug 13, 2014 by Matt Shipman
The transistors are formed by the vertical red bars in the image, which are 15nm wide (though designers use the term “length,” for various arcane reasons). The width of the whole circuit pictured is about 1 micron (or 1000 nm). Credit: Rhett Davis.

Engineering researchers have developed new software, called FreePDK15, to facilitate chip design – and are making it freely available in order to foster new research focused on pushing the frontiers of computer technology.

"State-of-the-art transistors are now 15 nanometers (nm) long, and you can fit a billion of those transistors on a single chip," says Rhett Davis, an electrical and computer engineering researcher at NC State. "That means we need software to design those chips – and ours is the first free software that enables that level of chip design. There are no confidentiality agreements to hold researchers back and no strings attached, since one of our goals is to bring more people into the field."

Davis launched the FreePDK project and oversaw development of the software by a team of students and private sector volunteers with the support of fellow NC State researcher Paul Franzon.

The FreePDK15 software gives chip designers accurate rules and definitions for what can (and can't) do on the 15 nm scale. Optical lithography is the technology used to print transistor designs on a chip.

"Basically, the software allows designers free rein to explore new ideas, while keeping them within the bounds of what is physically possible," Davis explains.

FreePDK15 is available for download here.

This is not the first from Davis's team. They issued FreePDK45 in 2007 to facilitate design at the 45 nm scale. That was used for educational purposes at hundreds of institutions, and was cited in more than 200 scholarly papers.

Explore further: A lab in your pocket

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

A lab in your pocket

May 07, 2014

When you get sick, your physician may take a sample of your blood, send it to the lab and wait for results. In the near future, however, doctors may be able to run those tests almost instantly on a piece ...

New hardware boosts communication speed on multi-core chips

Jan 31, 2011

Computer engineers at North Carolina State University have developed hardware that allows programs to operate more efficiently by significantly boosting the speed at which the "cores" on a computer chip communicate with each ...

NC State team to develop energy efficient 3-D CPU

Nov 15, 2011

Researchers from North Carolina State University are developing a three-dimensional (3D) central processing unit (CPU) – the brains of the computer – with the goal of boosting energy efficiency by 15 to 25 percent. ...

Recommended for you

Five ways the superintelligence revolution might happen

Sep 26, 2014

Biological brains are unlikely to be the final stage of intelligence. Machines already have superhuman strength, speed and stamina – and one day they will have superhuman intelligence. This is of course ...

User comments : 0