Top Ten: Common Analog IC Layout Tips-and-Tricks

After some Easter holidays and other resting period (I’m on paternal leave and rushing after three children).
This top ten list can probably be super-duper long… there are certainly quite a lot of tips-and-tricks for analog IC layout. I picked ten tips off-the-shelf and presented them in today’s list. Any (well, almost any …) of your comments are of course very appreciated.
The list is not sorted.

  • #10: Do not lay the transistors out as they are placed in the schematics
    Quite often you stare a little bit too much on the schematics when you do your layout. A classical example is a cascade of differential amplifiers. In the schematics you typically have your differential pair, active load, etc., in each sub-amplifier. You lay out according to the schematics and you put your input terminals to the left and your output terminals to the right. Then you start hooking the cascaded stages up… and there it starts to get messed up. You start to cross wires back-and-forth to fit the input to output terminals. It is much better to rotate the amplifier 90 degrees and then put the input terminals to the left and outputs to the right. Then you can more or less put the stages adjacent and automatically hook up.
    There are more things like this – spend some more time on what you actually have in the schematics and do not follow it too much in detail (from a placement point of view).
  • #9: Matching
    Matching is very important — we all know that. Any small variations in transistor sizes might give you large variations in terms of voltage or current dependent on gain and architecture. So, essentially, this bullet is stating the obvious – do not forget to match your circuit. The question though is how should you match? We have those well-known interdigitized and common-centroid approaches, where one interleaves in one or two dimensions in order to spread out the statistical variation to more than one transistor.
    However, what about these things:

    • avoid metal on top of the gate
    • orient all transistors (that should be matched) such that the current flows in the same physical direction
    • proximity effects, i.e., the edges should also match
    • shallow trench isolation, i.e., do not put the combined active area edges to far from the gates (that is, do not place the transistors in too large islands)
    • and much, much more.
  • #8: Add rubberband options and spares
    Unless you do RAMs or other very regular structures that need to be laid out very dense in order to reach high density, you should definitely think of rubberband options and spares. There are three aspects of this:

    • You need to do a metal mask change – i.e., a bug is detected in your design once chip is back in bench and you need to hook up an additional inverter or so somewhere. To save money, you just want to change the (upper) metal layers on your wafer. However, if the spare inverter is not there to begin with you need to pay quite a few extra k$.
    • Five hours before tape-out you realize you want some more driving capability in one of your amplifiers, just a little bit of extra current. Unfortunately, since you have done a dense design, adding that extra transistors forces you to do a substantial redesign of your layout.
    • There is a misunderstanding between PNR/RTL and analog macro and you need to do some digital encoding for some control wires. Running an ECO on the digital core takes too much time and you have to do a manual, digital place-and-route inside the analog macro.

    For all of these cases it would be very nice to have extra circuitry already at hand in your layout. Remember that normally you are not really doing the most dense layouts ”in the market”. Especially for the first test runs this is not the case, area and cost optimization follows later on. First, it is about time-to-market, and to be able to do quick changes to your design is very important. Layout can be quite tedious, even if you have an experienced layout engineer at hand, there will be communication required that takes time.
    So – add extra transistors/resistors/capacitors, extra inverters/nand/nor/gates, why not even an extra amplifier? You can even make them programmable (remember one of the other lists) such that you can add/increase through software.

  • #7: Electromigration
    Modern consumer-market temperature specifications actually stretches beyond 125 degrees. It could very well be 150 degrees. The tough requirements on metal wire widths for these temperatures get even more tougher. In some cases, the design kit is not really characterized at these frequencies, but instead data relies on linear extrapolation of other data points.
    Notice also that you might want to run some simulations and bench tests outside the spec points in order to characterize the circuit better. Thereby, why not design your circuit to meet also those ”external” corners.
    So, in short – do not forget to make your wires extra-wide.
  • #6: Parasitic capacitances
    Of course, some of these bullets would get explained/resolved by running proper physical verification and post-extract simulations. However, quite often you do become a bit sloppy, you do some minor checks first on your sub levels and for the upper levels the extracted netlists do become quite big and time-consuming to simulate.
    So, main two tips:

    • avoid routing wires on top of ”high-gain nodes”. This might give you a strong capacitive coupling that could have significant impact on performance
    • remember that the capacitive side-wall coupling between drain and source could become quite large if you stack many vias on top of eachother in order to reach a higher level metal.
  • #5: Metal fill and other density checks
    More or less to guarantee high yield one wants a certain density in certain regions on the chip. These regions are mostly ”windows” that are moved around the chip and the physical verification (pv) tool checks for density in that window. This could have the nasty property that once you are happy with your density checks in your local sub block, it might turn out that you have too high (or too low) density once you instantiate your block in the top level design. Annoying, but mostly solveable by changing the pv deck to have finer stepping between the windows being swept over your design. It could take slightly more time to run, but definitely quicker than running on the top level.
    The tip here is to not be afraid to add fill structures in your subcircuits (as long as you know that you will not need that space for routing or so). This will further improve matching. Assume, for example, that you have a time-interleaved ADC where all parallel channels should be matched properly. Here, you want to add fill structures for each channel rather than adding them on the top level ADC.
  • #4: Floorplanning — do not miss the whole picture
    This is of course also well-known, but yet … the problem with floorplanning is that mostly not all people are involved in the floorplanning process. This makes sense too of course, but eventhough you are only doing one small block in the overall design, maintain a good view of the overall system. How can your block be done such that the overall design benefits from that? For example, by rotating some components in your block you will help the top-level routing, avoid bends, etc. Remember that the top-level responsible, in case (s)he is stressed, (s)he will mainly focus on your ports and hook them up according to instructions. Too often, I’ve seen, for example, bias current wires being routed back-and-forth since the overall picture has not been considered. This causes extra resistance and noise.
  • #3: Think digital
    The canyon between analog and digital design seems to become even wider … the layout tools are fundamentally different, the design style is fundamentally different, the simulators different, etc., etc. So no wonder it is so difficult to interface between them…
    My message here though is to think digital, at least from a floorplanning and perimeter point-of-view:

    • Route your wires on digital routing grid
    • Use same widths for supply wires, and signals on the boundary that needs to interact with digital core
    • Make your design as regular as possible, let your (wild) target be to place-and-route your analog design using a digital back-end tool (!)
    • Jump back-and-forth between the two different worlds to mutually understand the complexities at both ends. How can an analog macro be inserted (and properly verified) in the digital PNR? How can a digital macro be inserted (and properly verified) in the analog flow?
  • #2: Strengthen metal, etc.
    You have a couple of different bullets (#5 and #7) that motivates this one and maybe one that contradicts (#6). Anyway, the idea here is that if you have a layout in which you have plenty of routing that needs to be strengthened, say reducing resistance or so. Spend some hours to develop a script that enables you to draw the interconnections in say metal 1. Then in cadence’ virtuoso, at least, you have a functionality that enables you to do layer manipulations. You could for example create a metal 3 layer which is an xor between metal 1 and metal 2. Using this approach, you can automatically generate support layers to your existing metal layers. Further on, you can also program the tool to find where two metals overlap and automatically insert vias in that region.
  • #1: Re-use and re-configurability
    We slightly touched upon this bullet earlier (rubberband #8). The idea here though is for the wider scope: how can your circuit be re-used in different environments/designs/chips. Still, as outlined in bullet #4, we must not loose the whole picture, but yet we can probably layout one circuit to be reused by adding some redundancy. Normally, the area penalty is not that high and the design time you save could be quite significant. Chip area can be expensive, but so is lost hours to the market.
    So, same message as I have been mentioning before: think porting. How can you move your design from one process to another in the shortest possible time? There are some software tools out there to simplify life for you and why not spend some time investigating them?

Any other ideas?

12 thoughts on “Top Ten: Common Analog IC Layout Tips-and-Tricks

  1. Looking through my rose tinted glasses-o-software; what about designing for ease of verification?
    Perhaps somehow making intermediate signals available for probing and verification?
    By routing them on the top metal layer or an unbonded pad or something?

    (Warning: I may be too damaged from software exposure to comment on these things)

    • True – you are right – that’s a very good (probe) point. Design for testability is indeed crucial for debugging.
      Not too bad for being a software guy!

  2. Is there is any good document or book that you can refer here for a person who wants to perform layout for his circuit for the first time. Secondly, in digital layout I have seen that each gate is designed with a large VDD and GND metal regions (at the top and the bottom respectively) and the rest of the circuit in between. Should we follow the same method for analog circuits such as OTA,Opamps, filters etc?

    • Nearly all analog text books contain a couple of chapters with analog design tips-and-tricks and so called “best practices”. I have never come across a good book, and I have now and then picked up some tips from the Internet. For example,, and many more. Google for “best practices”, etc.

      In short you should guarantee good supply and bulk connections to your circuit. That could mean you end up with a design as you describe. VDD on “top” and “VSS” on ground. However, the digital standard cell is typically implemented to be butted to the next cell, and hence for simplicity this is the case. In the analog world, you could think several rails and possibly violate the regularity a bit. For higher-level integration though, it makes sense to follow some guidelines, such that your block can easily be hooked up on next level.

      For me the tricky things with analog layout is the

      • mismatch – orientation, dummies, etc.
      • current density considerations in wires for high currents
      • ESD
      • isolation, several PSUBs, Taps, etc. require guard rings that occupy space
      • modularity: analog design typically requires redesign and you want to minimize your layout efforts. How do you cope with this?

      The best “book” is “Practice, practice, practice”, by your self…

      • Thanks for the reply jjwikner.
        Actually i am implementing a CT 2nd order Delta-Sigma modulator , now the issue is that I have a lot of mixed signal components, so I cant simply follow the digital design guidelines that is butting a cell to another cell. So the major confusion I am having right now is that should I design layout cells based on a single function or based on digital or analog functionality. for example I have a latched comparator (single bit quantizer), which contains a comparator circuit with a regenerative circuit, and then NAND gates for latched output. So should I design all of this together in a single cell, or should I treat NAND gate and the comparator completely separate and then connect them at a higher level.
        I hope my question is giving some sense.

      • Hi again,
        I guess it also depends on the supplies you have at hand. You probably have a low-voltage analog supply and a low-voltage digital supply at hand. Connecting the analog low-voltage to the spiky NAND/regen latch could be a bit hazardous. I would suggest thinking three segments: analog comparator in one island, than the regenerative latch in another connecting to a noisy analog supply in one island and then the digital part/island coming in. In any case, while integrating your converter on the top level, you want a solid digital interface, typically inserting a levelshifter+latch at the boundary between analog and digital.

        In general, as mentioned in some of the bullets above, you should think a couple of extra times on how the signal flow is through your circuit. For example the differential amplifiers, quite often, by rotating them 90 degrees solves a lot of problems (this sounds a bit strange, but a bit often one startes too much at the schematics when doing the layout.

        And don’t forget the guard rings as well as isolation between the different supplies!

  3. Hi jjwikner,

    Good article to summarize the key points in mixed-signal IC layout.
    I have a question regarding current direction matching. You say that the physical current direction through matched devices should be same, but if the MOS has many fingers and is laid out as S-D-S-D-S, i.e alternate source and drain, the current direction is inherently opposite when flowing from source to drain. Do you mean this because of mask misalignment ? in which case the configuration S-D will have different characteristics than D-S.


    • Dear Vikas,
      thanks for your comment. Yes, you are right that the sub-transistors (say M1.m1 M1.m2, M1.m3, etc.) of each fingered transistor will see different “directions”.
      However, remember that you are matching the overall M1 with an M2. If you maintain the same configuration for M2 as for M1 (summing up all sub-transistors) you effectively match them, even though M1.m1 and M1.m2 are not matched.

      Sigma difference between M1 and M2 decreases, but potentially not to its minimum value.


    • Thanks for the input Vadim. I have this on my to-do-list, unfortunately I just need to find some more time to launch cadence and create those illustrative examples.

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