Are You Ready for the Personal Tester?
|Paul M. Sakamoto
According to the popular media, I am an "older father." My children are eight and four years old and I am 46.
This wasn't anything I dwelled on when I first heard it. The practical implications didn't really hit me until my son, Rex, entered grade school.
"When I was your age," as my parents used to say, we didn't have anything like the facilities that kids have today. For example, we had no concept of the personal computer; it was a vague notion from science fiction movies and television.
Rex's classroom, however, has real computing power-more than would fit in a fair-sized building when I started working at Intel in the 1970s.
As we all know, the computing revolution has changed the world in some pretty fundamental ways, and today there is a test development that has its roots in the evolution of the computer. This is the personal tester.
Imagine a full-featured, full-performance tester that sits on a normal office desktop. In the past, some testers did fit on a desktop, but were marginally useful in production applications. Today, using proper architectural layout and CMOS ASICs, some of these desktop testers are scalable to run full production on the test floor.
Such machines currently exist for flash memory testing. Soon, I expect them to branch out into other applications-with microcontrollers a likely target.
In the best case, the desktop tester is directly hardware and software identical to the full production version. That is, it is essentially the same as a standard ATE unit, only it is repackaged for high parallel test in production.
With a low-cost, compact and easy-to-move test system, the productivity and economy of many engineering resources is greatly amplified. Engineers no longer have to queue up for system time.
Program development, production, reliability, design verification, customer return analysis, low-yield improvement and many other functions can be carried on in parallel. Thus, we can now put more testers in a lot more places to handle more tasks than ever before.
When the data has been collected, it can be immediately transferred to production, where it can make some money.
This is the kind of flexibility that I think vendors will demand whenever it's practical. Today, personal memory testers are practical. At some point, logic and microprocessor testers may become practical desktop equipment. This development will depend on speed and power trends in those markets. Even this may change if interface and supply voltages drop far enough.
Some people will ask, "Why can't software simulation and emulation take care of many of the same tasks?" Others will bring up the issue that a properly designed tester simulation model could be interfaced to a device model, and, therefore, allow work to be done before the first device is fabricated.
Not surprisingly, these questions are often brought up by those who happen to sell emulators and simulation packages. In fact, having a personal tester is what gives one the time to correlate these models to reality in the first place. Ultimately, the personal tester will continue to be utilized long after the simulators and emulators are forgotten.
Of course, we will know that this has really changed the world when my son's grade school starts putting personal testers into his classroom to test the ICs that they made in science lab. Then I can tell him about, "back when we had to test vacuum tubes . . ."
Mr. Sakamoto is vice president and general manager of the Memory Products Division at Credence Systems Corp., Fremont, Calif. [firstname.lastname@example.org]