Learning VLSI: First Steps

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For my senior project, Programmable Artificial Neural Chip Acquires Knowledge by Experience (PANCAKE), I need to learn VLSI. There are no classes at SVSU that teach VLSI, so it's up to me to learn how to do it. You may be asking, why did I choose a project that I do not know how to do? Well... I am in school, and believe in learning as many new things in school as possible, even if it means teaching yourself these things. Some of the most valuable lessons you can learn are things you teach yourself.

I am a huge supporter of freeware software, and am very pleased to have found Electric VLSI. Electric VLSI is an open source CAD system for schematic layout, hardware layout (in VLSI) and simulation. Holy cow can Electric VLSI do everything! There are so many bells and whistles in the software, so many adjustments and modes to do so many different things. If you are interested in VLSI, I highly recommend downloading Electric VLSI and trying it out.

One things for sure though: There is a definite learning curve just for learning the software functions, let alone VLSI and CMOS design logic. And so after a minimal amount of Google searching, I've come upon R. Jacob Baker and his site www.CMOSedu.com. Baker covers the basics of Electric VLSI installation and configuration, and also provides 6 well thought out tutorials. I've only finished 2 of the tutorials but am already feeling a boost in confidence working with the software. In his first tutorial, he covers making a basic voltage divider and how to simulate it. The second tutorial details building MOS transistors, and simulating them as well. In doing so, Baker exposed me to many of the essential commands, of which I now keep a list on a note card: (Note some of the commands were user defined)

  • W: Well check
  • L: NCC Check (Consistancy)
  • CTRL: Toggle Selection
  • F5: DRC
  • CTRL+I: Properties
  • Left-Click, Right-Click: Create Arcs
  • CTRL+N: New Cell
  • F: Fill Window
  • CTRL+E: Create Export
  • Tools>Simulation>Set Spice Model
A 3D View of an NMOS Transistor in Electric VLSI


I also have a fairly comprehensive book to reference, "Principles of CMOS VLSI Design" by Neil Weste. You can buy it on Amazon for 1 cent. Despite the price, the quality of the book is exceptional. From the first few glances, it is very comprehensive and goes into detail on a lot of design theories I'd expect to see. The goal is to become proficient enough with Electric VLSI by going through CMOSedu tutorials, and then using the software to build and simulate some of my circuits from the artificial neuron design.