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NVIDIA cuLitho to accelerate next-gen chip manufacturing, will be adopted by TSMC, ASML, Synopsys

By Zachary Chan - on 22 Mar 2023, 12:50pm

NVIDIA cuLitho

NVIDIA cuLitho brings GPU acceleration to computational lithography. Image source: NVIDIA

Everyone knows that as microprocessor circuitry gets smaller and smaller, it gets harder and harder to manufacture. Moore's Law (the doubling of transistors every two years) has been decreed as dead. And one of the main reasons for this is photolithography, the process of printing circuitry onto silicon wafers using lasers. In fact, the semiconductor industry is fast approaching the hard limits of physics as we reach 2nm nodes, where the size of said circuitry itself has become smaller than the wavelength of light that can be used to etch them. The most advanced EUV (Extreme Ultraviolet) lithography machines by ASML can cost 100s of millions of dollars, have a wavelength of about 13.5nm.

To put that into context, 2nm is smaller than a strand of human DNA. I'll let you chew on that nugget for a second or two. 

To workaround this problem, chipset manufacturers have to create increasingly complex light- or photomasks just to ensure that the right spot on a chip is 'lasered' correctly. This software portion of chip manufacturing is incredibly compute-heavy and a single photomask can require days or even weeks to process. 

Just like almost every other industry in the world that used to rely solely on CPUs for compute, there is now an accelerated GPU to take over. This piece of news is actually very simple, but we had to give context to it. 

One of NVIDIA's announcements last night at GTC 2023 is the release of the cuLitho software library (cu for Cuda), which is essentially a Cuda accelerator specifically designed to accelerate computational lithography workloads. NVIDIA claims cuLitho can provide up to 42x performance improvements over current CPU processing, with 9x lower power consumption. Just 500 NVIDIA DGX H100 systems with cuLitho can achieve the work of 40,000 CPU systems before, and a photomask that used to take two weeks to process can now be done overnight. This provides manufacturers the ability to compute even more complex and accurate photomasks, reducing errors and improving chip yield, speeding up time to market of new chips, while reducing costs.

There are only a few key players in the chip making business, and almost all of them - ASML, TSMC, Synopsys - are already on the cuLitho bandwagon.

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