Synopsys has another go at unseating Virtuoso

Synopsys has decided to re-enter the market for custom layout tools, several years after discontinuing work on the Cosmos layout editor that it acquired along with the rest of Avant. The company is tying the new tool, Custom Designer, into its Galaxy suite of tools for digital IC implementation, expecting to lure customers away from the current dominant market leader Cadence Design Systems’ Virtuoso.

The Custom Designer tool has no support for the proprietary Skill language used in Virtuoso but will support a Python implementation of the layout generator scheme developed by the Interoperable PCell Libraries (IPL) initiative. The company is also waiting for process-design kit support for IPL-compatible libraries: so far, only TSMC has committed to developing a 65nm library, although Synopsys claimed its focus with the initiative lies in 45nm and more advanced processes.

Graham Etchells, director of marketing for the analogue and mixed-signal group at Synopsys, said: “TSMC is working with us to build a 65nm process design kit. We were hoping to bring this all together at the same time.” However, the library is not quite ready for release.

Etchells conceded Skill support is an issue: “There is no easy answer to dealing with Skill. However, a lot of Skill routines were written just to get around deficiencies [in Virtuoso]. We wrote a lot of things that get around the need for Skill routines. We will do a an audit of customers’ Skill routines are needed and translate it into TCL, Python or even C++.”

How much work Synopsys will do to convert customers from Virtuoso to Custom Designer will depend on who they are. “With our early adopters we will do a lot of work with them,” he said.

However, Etchells added that Skill support was comparatively unimportant for the customers that the company is targeting with Custom Designer. “If you are a Galaxy customer, you have a better environment,” he claimed, pointing to a direct link between the digital and analogue layout tools through the Milky Way database. This will allow information about routing and layout intent to be passed between them directly instead of relying on LEF, DEF and GDS II formats.

“There are enough Galaxy customers who have been held hostage by Cadence. They can see it is in their interest to move. The people using Galaxy: that is a big enough market for us. There are enough customers there who are cheesed off with Cadence,” Etchells said. “The bulk of [Cadence] customers are using Virtuoso Composer and only a few Skill routines.

“Customers have been knocking on our door asking for this because they want to switch.”

For interactive design-rule checks, Synopsys will support its own Hercules tool. However, Mentor Graphics said it will adapt the Virtuoso version of interactive checker based on its market-leading Calibre tool for the Synopsys layout editor.

Realising that most customers who adopt the tool will come from the Virtuoso environment, Synopsys deliberately mimicked the tool’s interface, making some change to speed up some elements of data entry and adding a history buffer to let designers go back to an known earlier point if changes do not work out. Changes in the history buffer can be saved and used as actions for repetitive work.

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