Semiconductors and microchip for the masses

background

A bit of background about me first. As a child I was gifted a Commodore 64 when I was 13. It was my dream at the time to understand the cicruit schematics it came with. Fast forward a few years, I studied Electrical Engineering and went on to do a PhD on analog and mixed-signal microchip design in the neuromorphic area.

terminology

First some microchip and semiconductors boring terminology:

  • circuit design: set of circuit components and connections
  • electronic design automation (EDA) tools: software that takes your rough circuit sketches and turns them into files that can be used by the foundry
  • foundry: a factory for microchip
  • technology node: a foundry can design microchip of different kinds, with different rules and minimum transistor sizes (5 nm, 10 nm, 28 nm, see: https://en.wikichip.org/wiki/technology_node)
  • foundry design kit (SDK)s: a set of rules and components that implement your design in the foundry technology nodes
  • wafer: is a pizza of silicon that contains many microchips, and is the basic unit of foundry processing
  • die / chiplet: a single microchip instance cutout from the wafer

how to make microchips

This is a super condensed summary of how to make an actual microchip:

barriers

Unfortunately it is not so easy… there are major barriers that do not allow us today to make it as easy as it could be! Let me explain the major problems:

What can we do?

  • create and fuel more open-source EDA tools
  • ask your country representatives to make more microchip foundries in your own country!
  • lower the barrier to obtaining foundry design kits and tools, especially for older processes!
  • foundries that are government-owned can lower the barriers to SDK and also of cost to a larger user set
  • create and invigorate the open-source microchip community
  • share and open-source circuit design in blueprints, napkins, files, chiplets, so that it becomes easier and easier to create new and large design from individual components
  • never give up!

About the author

I have almost 20 years of experience in neural networks in both hardware and software (a rare combination). See about me here: Medium, webpage, Scholar, LinkedIn, and more…

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