With the advent of Reticle Enhancement Technologies (RET) such as Optical Proximity Correction (OPC) and Phase Shift Masks (PSM) required to manufacture semiconductors in the sub-wavelength era, the cost of photomask tooling has skyrocketed. On the leading edge of technology, mask set prices often exceed $1 million. This shifts an enormous burden back to designers and Electronic Design Automation (EDA) software vendors to create perfect designs at a time when the number of transistors per chip is measured in the hundreds of millions, and gigachips are on the drawing boards.
Moore's Law has driven technology to incredible feats. The prime beneficiaries of the technology - memory and microprocessor (MPU) manufacturers - can continue to fit the model because wafer volumes (and chip prices in the MPU case) render tooling costs relatively insignificant. However, Application-Specific IC (ASIC) manufacturers and most foundry clients average very small wafer per reticle ratios causing a dramatic and potentially insupportable rise in the cost of manufacturing.
Multi-Project wafers (MPWs) are a way to share the cost of tooling and silicon by putting more than one chip on each reticle. Lacking any unexpected breakthroughs in simulation, verification, or mask technology to reduce the cost of prototyping, more efficient use of reticle space becomes a viable and increasingly attractive choice. It is worthwhile therefore, to discuss the economics of prototyping in the sub-wavelength era and the increasing advantages of the MPW, shared-silicon approach.
However, putting together a collection of different-sized chips during tapeout can be challenging and time consuming. Design compatibility, reticle field optimization, and frame generation have traditionally been the biggest worries but, with the advent of dummy-fill for planarization and RET for resolution, another layer of complexity has been added. MPW automation software is quite advanced today, but the size of the task dictates careful consideration of the