GlobalFoundries and Google Push for More Open Source Silicon

Google is expanding its open-source chip design and manufacturing efforts to boost the community of developers building custom silicon while supporting a thriving ecosystem around open-source hardware.

The Silicon Valley giant said it is teaming up with US contract chipmaker GlobalFoundries to roll out a new open-source process design kit (PDK) based on the foundry’s 180MCU node. Google also announced a program allowing semiconductor engineers to produce chips for free using an efabless platform.

GlobalFoundries partnering with Google “is an unambiguous affirmation of the viability of the open source model for the foundry ecosystem,” the company said in a statement.

While the manufacturing process itself is not open source, the PDK is. The open-source PDK is the first result of Google’s ongoing partnership with GlobalFoundries, headquartered in upstate New York.

A PDK is a set of files that a foundry shares with its customers to describe the building blocks of a specific production process. The PDK interfaces with Electronic Design Automation (EDA) software and covers the rules that chip engineers must follow during the design process. Engineers use a PDK to design, simulate, and verify a chip design before sharing the blueprint with the foundry to build prototypes or ramp up production.

Designing a chip is a very expensive process, and purchasing high-end electronic design automation (EDA) software is also expensive. Having test chips manufactured by a foundry can cost tens of thousands or millions of dollars per production run. This is a major hurdle for startups or system companies that want to invest more in chip design. But using open-source chip design tools, including PDKs, could help cut costs.

Google said it launched its open-source chip design and manufacturing program called “OpenMFW” in 2020. It previously partnered with SkyWater Technology to support open-source chip design on its 130nm node.

Google said it has funded several wafer production runs under the program. To date, around 240 chips based on the open-source 130nm PDK have been manufactured at Google’s expense.

The companies said last month they were expanding the program to include a Google-powered open-source chip design platform for Skywater’s 90nm FDSOI node. The Ministry of Defense helps financially.

But Google is expanding the reach of the open-source foundry program by partnering with Global-Foundries, the world’s second-largest pure-play foundry behind TSMC, according to market research firm TrendForce.

Specifically, the global production capacity of chips such as general purpose microcontrollers (MCUs), power management integrated circuits (PMICs), and motor driver ICs based on the 180nm node amounted to over 16 million slices last year. According to Google, this number will climb to more than 22 million by 2026.

“Based on the scale and breadth of GF’s technology and manufacturing expertise, we plan to do more together to drive access and innovation in the development and manufacturing of semi- drivers,” Google said.

Learn more about the program here.

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