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Basically what register transfer level compiles to in order to achieve a real chip implementation.
After this is done, the final step is place and route.
They can be designed by third parties besides the semiconductor fabrication plants. E.g. Arm Ltd. markets its Artisan Standard Cell Libraries as mentioned e.g. at: This came from a 2004 acquisition:, obviously.
The standard cell library is typically composed of a bunch of versions of somewhat simple gates, e.g.:
  • AND with 2 inputs
  • AND with 3 inputs
  • AND with 4 inputs
  • OR with 2 inputs
  • OR with 3 inputs
and so on.
Each of those gates has to be designed by hand as a 3D structure that can be produced in a given fab.
Simulations are then carried out, and the electric properties of those structures are characterized in a standard way as a bunch of tables of numbers that specify things like:
  • how long it takes for electrons to pass through
  • how much heat it produces
Those are then used in power, performance and area estimates.