Silvaco is a company that was formed a long time ago (1984) and, quite frankly, I thought had long since disappeared. But, instead, it's been quietly plugging away all that time, and the recent death of its founder (Ivan Pesic, 1951-2012) has led to new management, new ideas, and a desire to become a little better known than it has been.
Silvaco has two primary areas of concentration: EDA (and most of that is in the analog/mixed-signal space) and technology CAD, or TCAD. The company is divided about 50/50 between the two.
The company has had an interesting history. At one point it was quite litigious. It won a $20 million judgment against Avanti. And it made a few enemies when it sued 10 large users of Circuit Semantics software. Silvaco believed these users had stolen the code from SmartSpice.
Following that action, it dropped out of the limelight. In 2003 it purchased Simucad, which itself had a very interesting history. Silvaco spun it off in 2004 and then reacquired it in 2010. Silvaco is private, profitable, owns its own buildings, and employs around 300 people, which makes it one of the larger EDA companies.
With that as a backdrop, I got to talk to the new management team and to find out what they have in store. Ivan's son, Iliya, is the president and chairman of the board, and the new CEO is David Halliday. David told me that what makes Silvaco unique is that it spans the gap between the two primary product lines, and as process geometries shrink this will become more important. Silvaco is one of only two major players in the TCAD area.
How do you go up against Cadence, a giant of the analog world? “It is always hard to go up against a behemoth, but we have some fairly unique capabilities,” Halliday told me:
We have full featured tools that are suitable for most types of analog and mixed-signal design, and our simulation performance is up there with the best of them. In addition we also offer PDKs [process design kits], which Cadence does as well, but a lot of companies do not want to invest the kinds of money that Cadence wants.
Other lower-cost providers do not have PDK support. For companies that want schematic capture, layout, DRC [design rule checking], and are able to target foundries such as TowerJazz, integrated with the TCAD tools, we are the obvious choice. This enables companies to tackle not just CMOS but technologies such as power, TFTs [thin-film-transistor liquid-crystal displays], sensors — things that are more unique. We do not compete on price; we try and offer a unique set of capabilities tuned for certain market spaces.
Halliday confirmed that a majority of Silvaco's customers are at the larger geometries, such as 180 and 90 nm, but a fair proportion of its customers are not doing traditional design. For example, TFTs are of fairly small dimension for the pixels but large in interconnect. The company is also working with Sematech on FinFET designs, which are at the very fine geometries.
He continued, “The biggest challenge for analog designers these days is getting the appropriate yield at the desired price point and in many cases finding a foundry that can provide what they are looking for.” Colin Shaw, senior applications engineer, added, “As you go down in geometry, designers are worried about the headroom so they want true Spice accuracy. Some of the fastSpices don't always give you the necessary accuracy.”
Power devices are a major market for Silvaco. They are important for solar, charging circuitry, display drivers, and many other applications. Whereas many digital designers are concerned about power consumption, the analog market is more concerned about the quality of the power. Having a good quality power source is important because it can affect the way the circuit operates. Also being able to handle technologies other than CMOS and silicon is important for many of these devices.
David told me that “Synopsys has both of these components [analog and TCAD] but, interestingly enough, they are missing the joining piece between them. To go from TCAD to Spice you need model extraction. You can get a set of I-V curves from measured waveform or you get them from TCAD. From this you have to generate a model. Synopsys treats their TCAD as part of a DFM [design for manufacturability] solution.”
Silvaco management now feels that in order to be successful you have to be part of the community. “The EDA community has enough problems as it is, and you have to become an integral part of it,” says Halliday. “We are joining more consortiums and want to drive the EDA community to make something better for everybody.” By doing this he thinks he can create more vitality in the industry.
How important do you think it is that analog design and TCAD are tied together?