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An A.T.E. Solutions, Inc. Internet Publication
Volume 10 Number 10 June 1, 2006

The Testability Director Version 3.2


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This Issue's Feature Articles

Alternatives to High Priced IC ATEs
Louis Y. Ungar, Editor,

Product/Service Focus
This issue's focus is Integrated Circuit Automatic Test Equipment (IC ATEs). You can view and add to our existing list of Test Products/Services, Test Literature, Test Definitions
What's New in Test
  5/23/2006 LTX Announces X-Series Fusion Test Systems Selected By SiGe Semiconductor
  5/22/2006 Orbotech releases additional details of $18 Million purchase agreement for PCB-AOI equipment
  5/16/2006 Agilent Posts Q2 Results - 21% higher than last year
  5/16/2006 ASSET and Firecron demonstrate system-level JTAG proof-of-concept
Application Notes
  5/16/2006 Complete Switching Tutorial
Magazine Articles
  6/1/2006 Timing Analysis Principles for Digital PCBs, Parts 1 and 2
  5/24/2006 Addressing future test challenges via synthetic instrumentation
  5/22/2006 Just One Nanosecond: Clocking Events At The Nanoscale
  5/17/2006 Accelerated Testing Creates Better Products Sooner
  5/16/2006 RF test aims at wireless standards
  5/16/2006 Selecting test automation power supplies
  5/16/2006 Spread-spectrum clocking: measuring accuracy and depth
Product Releases
  5/25/2006 Data-acquisition system captures 16-bit voltage measurements using the USB
  5/23/2006 Agilent Announces LXI Certification Of Six Microwave Synthetic Instruments
  5/18/2006 Aeroflex and Kenwood USA team up for P25 test
  5/18/2006 LogicVision Announces the Industry's First True At-Speed Deterministic Test Compression Solution
  5/16/2006 Agilent augments PCB vectorless test for tiny devices
  5/18/2006 Chip equipment market to exceed forecast - ATE will rebound
  5/18/2006 Transistor Testing Costs a 'Serious’ Problem
  6/1/2006 IEEE standardizes 'e' language - for verification
  5/25/2006 IEEE Begins Modular Interconnect Standard for Automated Test Systems
Web Postings
  5/16/2006 Considerations in Selecting a Bus Analyzer
  5/16/2006 How to Select a Bus Analyzer
  5/16/2006 How to Select the Right Bus Analyzers and Controllers
Alternatives to High Priced IC ATEs
Louis Y. Ungar, Editor, BestTest Newsletter

Each issue of The BestTest Newsletter focuses on a test product or service, and we have vendors explain to our readers how to select such a product  We usually have no problem finding one or more test vendors to tackle the subject and submit a 600 or so word "watch outs," making our readers the most informed buyers of test products and services.

For some reason none of the vendors for Integrated Circuit (IC) Automatic Test Equipment (ATE) stepped up to the plate this time to explain to our readers what they should look for when they buy an IC ATE.  A friend of mine who sells IC ATEs told me a while back that when he sells the 6 figure priced ATE, he doesn't even talk to the test engineers.  He feels that they are not the ones who would make a decision involving so many zeros in the price, so why bother?  He did, however, admit that test engineers have a vetoing power in deciding against a particular ATE, so as a sales professional, he wants to make sure that the ultimate users of the ATE do not have any objections on a technical level.

I will not attempt here to outline detailed specifications of such complex testers for which somebody (hopefully a test professional) will make a purchasing decision that goes far beyond the $1 million+ price tag.  When you consider the test programming costs, the test fixturing costs, test simulation and design for testability costs associated with the IC or System-on-chip (SOC), you can easily triple the ATE price tag to estimate the five-year ownership cost.  Rather, I want to explore alternatives that have been tried by those who just cannot or do not want to come up with the investment - regardless of any expected  return on that investment.

Some of the alternatives we have seen lately are worth exploring:

  • Lower priced ATE compromising high precision parametrics

  • Used (refurbished) ATE

  • Reduced ATE requirements through sampling

  • Improved Design for Testability to reduce ATE requirements

  • Built-In Self Test to reduce ATE requirements

  • Foregoing IC Tests altogether

Lower Priced ATE - We do not live under an illusion that a $50,000 tester can do the same job as a $1,000,000 one, but the very first thing we have to do is review the parameters of the IC device under test (DUT). Clearly note what parameters cannot be accurately measured or stimulated by a) any ATE, b) by a lower priced ATE.  Once you identify these parameters there are a number of economic models you can create to calculate the frequency of such occurrences, the cost impact of each occurrence, and any other factors that can mitigate the situation (such as Design for Testability, which is discussed later).  You need to be aware of the penalty costs associated with foregoing functional capabilities in the ATE, but if this is something that you can live with, the savings may be substantial.

Used (refurbished) ATE - There is certainly a great deal of prestige in owning one or more million dollar ATEs, and all of this prestige is lost if you buy the equivalent ATE on the secondary market.  How much is prestige worth to your organization?  We have ran previous issues dealing with used test equipment of all kinds, and it is often possible to buy full support from the original ATE manufacturer.  (Naturally, the time to negotiate such support is not when the ATE manufacturer holds out hope that you will buy a new one.)  Test engineers should be cautious in making this decision, however.  While it may appear that the purchase price of the used ATE is lower, the company's financial people may rightfully choose to lease a new ATE.  Their decision would involve tax consequences the test engineers may not understand.

Sampling - Using an ATE for sampling (that is testing only some of the DUTs) may not be cost effective at all in some organizations.  The major costs of the ATE - purchase price, test program development, fixturing, etc. - are required regardless of the number of units you test.  So, in fact, the larger the number of units you test, the greater the cost spreads and becomes less expensive to test per chip.  The only time sampling makes sense is when you have exceeded your ATE capacity.  At that point, you may consider buying your second ATE as a used ATE.

Design for Testability -  One of the best ways to reduce the functional testing requirements that ATE has to deal with is to design controllability and observability features within the chip.  Scan techniques are quite effective in accessing internal points, though they do not always assist in diagnosis.  For that reason, it is important for the chip designers to consider exactly how the circuit will be tested with the ATE.  Parametric tests and test vector depth, which are the greatest contributors to the high price of IC ATEs, can be tapered with testable-friendly designs.  It may be possible that with DFT + Used ATE, you can achieve all the features that your new ATE would have provided - but at substantial savings.

Built-In Self Test - I had an interesting discussion last week with a BIST tool maker about who benefits most from BIST - the IC manufacturer, or the board and system manufacturer end user who buys the chip equipped with BIST?  He felt it was the end user, and I felt it was the IC vendor.  Hopefully, we are both correct, but for the purpose of this article, I urge your IC's BIST designers to consider the ATE that will (or now can) be used to test your chips.  There are substantial opportunities to save with BIST at every level of construction.

Forego Testing ICs -  This is the most dangerous, and probably the most popular when it comes to incoming inspection.  Certainly, IC quality has increased, and as a purchaser of ICs, you are looking for less than 100 parts per million (ppm) failing.  Of course, the only way you could be sure that this number is close to what you are getting is to test - at a high cost.  So most board and system manufacturers will take the IC vendor's word for it that the chips were thoroughly tested.  (Note, BIST could be used to find bad chips - so would IC vendors want you to do that?)
For an IC vendor, it is inconceivable to sell chips that have not been tested.  First, yields are usually not that high, and even with a 95%+ yield they would be selling chips with a 50,000 ppm failing.   But taking this example further, assume that some test is done that will detect 30,000 of the bad chips - resulting in 20,000 bad chips/million sold.  With no incoming IC test performed by the end user, these 2% bad chips may not be discovered until board or even system test and only about half of them would be discovered at all.  Most, if not all faults would be considered to have failed during board assembly.  (The rest would be discovered by the system end user).  Based on such flimsy evidence, could the IC vendors be blamed for systems failing after manufacturing and after fielding?  Probably not.  

We have offered some alternatives to high priced IC ATEs, not because we want to compromise on the tests they perform, but because it may not be economical in all instances to buy the latest and the greatest ATE.  From a technical perspective there are a number of other ways we could eliminate faulty chips from winding up in electronic systems.  The technical aspects will undoubtedly be compromised.  But we must remember that test is ultimately a technical solution to an economic problem.

Next Issue's Product/Service Focus
In our next issue of Product/Service Focus we will cover All/LXI. You can add or upgrade a listing before the next issue comes out.

If you would like to include an exclusive article on how to best select All/LXI, please contact

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New Definitions
New terms added to the Test Definition section:
AC Fault Models
AC Testing
Armature Relays
Automatic Test Pattern Generation
BIST Wrapper
Bridging Fault Model
Built In Self Test
Bus Analyzer
Bus Controller
Circuit Learning
Clock Domain
Combinatorial or Combinational
Concurrent Test Engineering
Critical Path
Current-Based Fault Model
DC Fault Models
Delay Path Sensitization
We now have 2229 test terms in our Test Definition section.

Share your definitions with the test community.