Table: The Virtual Foundry: How It Works
Hypothetical semiconductor outfit Dynagraphic develops the core of a radical new chip for a game machine. Lacking its own silicon wafer plant and needing some added design features, it approaches Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing.
TSMC refers Dynagraphic engineers to several "intellectual-property companies" that offer design elements, which are in the form of software code. Dynagraphic licenses and downloads the needed "IP modules" from these companies, whose designs are compatible with TSMC's production processes.
When the design is finished, Dynagraphic logs onto TSMC's CyberShuttle Web site. It reserves "space" on a silicon wafer for a sample chip. Because the wafer can cost $250,000 and up, the same one is used for prototypes of other chip companies, reducing cost. The chip design, encoded on magnetic tape, is sent to a Taiwan wafer fab, and a sample chip is produced.
Engineers from Dynagraphic in Silicon Valley and TSMC in Taiwan perfect the physical circuit blueprint for the chip over TSMC's Internet Layout Viewer. When finished, Dynagraphic downloads the layout, runs computer tests, and corrects defects.
THE VIRTUAL WAFER
Dynagraphic and TSMC engineers lay out tens of thousands of chips onto a wafer. Dynagraphic analyzes data from the entire "mask" of the wafer, similar to a film negative, showing up to 18 layers, each with billions of interconnections, over the eJobview site.
After making some test wafers, Dynagraphic's chips go into production. Dynagraphic need not physically touch a single chip. It can monitor the production status and physical whereabouts of each chip, from Taiwan until they are installed in the game machine, over TSMC's supply-chain Web site.
TOTAL TIME ELAPSED
Four to six months, compared with 12 to 18 months two years ago.
Data: TSMC, BusinessWeek