vlsi in india
What exactly is VLSI?
It is an acronym for “very large scale integration”. So any chip that semiconductor companies like Texas Instruments or Intel put out, it is a VLSI chip. This integration is just another way of saying that today we can cram a hundred million transistors (very, very tiny switches) on the surface of a square centimetre of silicon.
ASIC stands for Application-Specific Integrated Circuit. This is in contrast to a catalogue or off-the-shelf ICs like one of TI’s DSP’s or Intel’s Pentium processor. An ASIC, therefore, is customised to do a specific function, at a lower cost or lower power consumption than catalogue products. It also means a particular business model, in which a semiconductor company engages with customers to design and manufacture an ASIC to meet the customer’s needs.
Is there any kind of a noticeable trend that is taking place in this field of design?
What the ASIC business model implies is that the chip has to be designed very fast, so that the customer can get to market, with the product that uses the chip, very quickly. In order to achieve this, the whole process of ASIC design is very software-centric. The requirements for the chip is described in a computer language called a “hardware description language” and sophisticated programs called electronic design automation (EDA) software tools are used to put it together and to verify that what will be manufactured is what you `want’ to be manufactured.
Since this is a niche segment how do you go about providing the training?
Specifically, a number of universities, for example, IISc/IITs have a ME/MTech in microelectronics. Also, various organisations give post- graduate diplomas in VLSI Design. But more fundamentally, young people should be taught to think, to innovate and to be problem solvers. It is almost a certainty that a graduate entering the profession today will be working with a very different kind of technology by the time he/she retires. Nano-carbon? Quantum machines? I don’t know… It’s a cliche, but it is true: the only thing that is constant is change; and you need the right attitude to not just adapt to it, but to enjoy it.
What about a system-on-chip design?
This is clearly the trend of today. With the amount of functionality that you can pack on a square centimetre of silicon, what used to take up a whole printed circuit board with a number of chips on it, can be packed on to a single chip. From an engineering point of view, the advantages are lower unit product cost, lower power dissipation and other such techno-business advantages. But at a human level, as these systems-on-chip (SoC) find there way into more and more products and services, it will have a basic impact on where and how we work and relax and communicate with one another.
Moreover, the line between ASIC and “catalogue” is blurring and time to market is the key most of the time.