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System Integration Requires a Shared Viewpoint

By John Blyler

Qualcomm uses Dassault Systemes’ dashboarding tool in its Hexagon DSP chip to incorporate multiple design metrics from key EDA tools.

The EDA tool market has longed talked about its need to expand beyond the creation of silicon-based system-on-chips (SoCs) to provide packages that integrate the larger hardware and software system. Specifically, the major tool vendors emphasized the need to move beyond EDA-centric issues like electronic system level (ESL) design, functional verification, design-for-yield or any similar so-called crisis issues. The goal has been to move beyond chip creation to system integration to deal with both hardware and software at the chip, board, and end-user product levels.

“It begins with a shift from design creation to integration in the electronic systems industry,” states the Cadence’s EDA Vision 360 report. EDA tool companies have had to expand their coverage into the larger system market, thanks to changes in the semiconductor supply chain.

Regardless of the drivers, the expansion from creation to integration tools for the larger system has not been easy move for a variety of technical and cultural reasons. Consider but one aspect of the problem: How to provide higher-level integration when your customer uses a variety of internal and competitive tools? For example, most IDMs like Intel, Samsung and Apple, as well as fabless chip companies use a variety of EDA tools for synthesis, place and route (P&R), time and power closure, etc. Further, many use a mix of internal tools that have been tailored to the needs of the customer.

To become a system integrator – at least from the chip design space viewpoint – tool providers will need a mechanism to gather, analyze and display useful data metrics from a variety EDA packages. One of the few companies that come close to such an application is not an EDA company at all, but rather comes from a higher-level, project lifecycle management (PLM) provider.

Qualcomm recently shared their challenges in integrating the metrics from a mix of chip design tools. Their problem was how to put together all of the disjointed design pieces for development of its Hexagon DSP-based multithreaded CPU architecture. With a global design team (San Diego, India and Austin), the company had to communicate all of the traditional design metrics like timing and area, with secondary metrics like power and signal integrity. Adding to this technical complexity was the diversity of professionals that needed access to these metrics, from system architects, RTL coders to logical and physical designers.

The answer was simply to use dashboards to display data and metrics in such as way as to quickly show trends and trouble spots. Good dashboards highlight the metrics data in a graphical analysis format while also providing a transition from high-level to detailed low-level views. This abstraction-level zoom-in/zoom-out capability helps designers quickly spot trouble areas and then probe down into the details.

Dwight Galbi, Principle Manager of Qualcomm

Dashboarding is nothing new. “Qualcomm has many internal dashboards,” explained Dwight Galbi, Principle Manager of Qualcomm’s physical design team at a recent Dassault Systemes’s Customer Forum. “We have dashboards that cover some of the (design metrics) … but not one that incorporated all of them.” What was needed was a dashboard to provide design metrics from a variety of EDA tools throughout the chip design process.

That’s where Dassault Systemes’s dashboarding tool called Pinpoint came to into play.  In his presentation, Galbi listed the mix of life cycle tools (albeit from one vendor, i.e.,, Synopsys) used in his recent DSP project. The list included Design Compiler for synthsis;  IC and Talis for P&R; and Prime Time for sign off.

“The beauty here is that these are four different tools but you can incorporate all of the reports into the same web-based server,” said Galbi. Equally important (though not mentioned by Galbi) was that the tool provides a graphical visualization of physical design, timing paths, etc., without needing to reload the entire design block. This saves both time and money – since the user doesn’t need to activate a license from the EDA tool vendors.

Further, using a dashboard can provide a way for geographically dispersed teams to communicate via a common view of the design. This is a key requirement for any system integration. For example, the chip’s Register-Transfer-Level (RTL) codes are often developed by teams in different geographic locations. Complicating the geographic challenges is the need to incorporate third party-IP and reused internal design blocks with the various RTL designs before the implementation process even begins. This is a problem since the physical layout and design team requires the RTL synthesized code (with all the IP), design planning and place-and-route (P&R) data to decide if the primary chip design constraints can be met.

Getting the detailed RTL design team to work with the physical layout-design teams as soon as possible encourages communication and successful design practices. It helps mitigate the problems of siloed design activates. Also, a dashboard approach incorporates the essential data metrics from several different EDA tools into one place. This single, global view increases the likelihood of a successful SoC design as well as integrating that design – and the team – with the next level of system development.

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