Google, SkyWater Release Production Dev Kit, Offer Open Hardware Projects Free 130nm Manufacturing

Now available in experimental form, open hardware designers can submit via the PDK for chip production this November.

Gareth Halfacree
2 years agoFPGAs

Google's Tim Ansell has announced the SkyWater, Production Development Kit (PDF) a first-of-its-kind open source process tool for creating application-specific integrated circuits and having them manufactured on a 130nm process node — and to encourage uptake, Google has partnered with efabless to run a series of free manufacturing runs for open hardware designs.

"The SkyWater Open Source PDK is a collaboration between Google and SkyWater Technology Foundry to provide a fully open source Process Design Kit and related resources," Ansell explains of the platform, announced this week as part of the Free and Open Source Silicon (FOSSi) Foundation's Dial-Up virtual conference, "which can be used to create manufacturable designs at SkyWater’s facility."

The PDK allows for the design of an application-specific integrated circuit (ASIC) to be taken off configurable hardware like field-programmable gate arrays (FPGAs) and made into a physical chip. The program is open to all designs, though its key focus is on open hardware — and to encourage its use, multiple manufacturing plans are planned in which open hardware projects will have their designs built entirely free of charge.

"This is certainly a dream come true for us at the FOSSi Foundation," director Philipp Wagner says of the announcement. "We helped the Free and Open Source Silicon community, our community, grow and tackle huge challenges over the years. An open, manufacturable PDK was the main blocker in a fully open flow between RTL and a physical chip, and we’re extremely excited to see that blocker removed."

The PDK is based around SkyWater's SKY130 process node, a hybrid 180-130nm technology originally developed at Cypress Semiconductor. The mature and proven node includes support for internal 1.8V operation and 5V input/outputs (IOs) operable at 2.5V, a single level of local interconnect, five levels of metal, and optional metal-insulator-metal (MIM) capacitors. While not the newest process node — it was first commercialised around 2001 — it's enough to create functional and performant hardware: Original 130nm designs include the Intel Pentium 4, Arm's Mx series, and mRISC.

The PDK as it stands today includes a library of standard digital cells, with work in progress on additional libraries including input/output and peripheral cells, base primitives, analogue radio-frequency primitives, and build spaces for static RAM (SRAM) and flash memories, along with an as-yet missing automated design rules checker.

The SkyWater PDK is, as the above list suggests, a work-in-progress described by the companies as an "experimental preview/alpha release." The current version of the PDK is available on GitHub under the permissive Apache License 2.0, with documentation on Read The Docs. The first free production run is scheduled for November, with additional planned throughout 2020.

Gareth Halfacree
Freelance journalist, technical author, hacker, tinkerer, erstwhile sysadmin. For hire: freelance@halfacree.co.uk.
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