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Digital Designers Grapple with Analog Mixed Signal Designs

Today’s growth of analog and mixed signal circuits in the Internet of Things (IoT) applications raises questions about compiling C-code, running simulations, low power designs, latency and IP integration.

Often, the most valuable portion of a technical seminar is found in the question-and-answer (Q&A) session that follows the actual presentation. For me, that was true during a recent talk on the creation of mixed signal devices for smart analog and the Internet of Things (IoT) applications. The speakers included Diya Soubra, CPU Product Marketing Manager and Joel Rosenberg, Platform Marketing Director at ARM; and Mladen Nizic, Engineering Director at Cadence. What follows is my paraphrasing of the Q&A session with reference to the presentation where appropriate. – JB

Question: Is it possible to run C and assembly code on an ARM® Cortex®-M0 processor in Cadence’s Virtuoso for custom IC design? Is there a C-compiler within the tool?

Nizic: The C compiler comes from Keil®, ARM’s software development kit. The ARM DS-5 Development Studio is an Eclipse based tool suite for the company’s processors and SoCs. Once the code is compiled, it is run together with RTL software in our (Cadence) Incisive Mixed Signal simulator. The result is a simulation of the processor driven by an instruction set with all digital peripherals simulated in RTL or at the gate level. The analog portions of the design are simulated at the appropriate behavioral level, i.e., Spice transistor level, electrical behavioral Verilog A or a real number model. [See the mixed signal trends section of, “Moore’s Cycle, Fifth Horseman, Mixed Signals, and IP Stress”)

You can use the electrical behavioral models like a Verilog A and VHDL-A and –AMS to simulate the analog portions of the design. But real number models have become increasingly popular for this task. With real number models, you can model analog signals with variable amplitudes but discrete time steps, just as required by digital simulation. Simulations with a real number model representation for analog are done at almost the same speed as the digital simulation and with very little penalty (in accuracy). For example, here (see Figure 1) are the results of a system simulation where we verify how quickly Cortex-M0 would us a regulation signal to bring pressure to a specified value. It takes some 28-clock cycles. Other test bench scenarios might be explored, e.g., sending the Cortex-M0 into sleep mode if no changes in pressure are detected or waking up the processor in a few clock cycles to stabilize the system. The point is that you can swap these real number models for electrical models in Verilog A or for transistor models to redo your simulation to verify that the transistor model performs as expected.

Figure 1: The results of a Cadence simulation to verify the accuracy of a Cortex-M0 to regulate a pressure monitoring system. (Courtesy of Cadence)

Question: Can you give some examples of applications where products are incorporating analog capabilities and how they are using them?

Soubra: Everything related to motor control, power conversion and power control are good examples of where adding a little bit of (processor) smarts placed next to the mixed signal input can make a big difference. This is a clear case of how the industry is shifting toward this analog integration.

Question: What capabilities does ARM offer to support the low power requirement for mixed signal SoC design?

Rosenberg: The answer to this question has both a memory and logic component. In terms of memory, we offer the extended range register file compilers which today can go up to 256k bits. Even though the performance requirement for a given application may be relatively low, the user will want to boot from the flash into the SRAM or the register file instance. Then they will shut down the flash and execute out of the RAM as the RAM offers significantly lower active as well as stand-by power compared to executing out of flash.

On the logic side, we offer a selection from 7, 9 and 12 tracks. Within that, there are three Vt options – one for high, nominal and lower speeds. Beyond that we also offer power management kits that provide things like level shifters and power gating so the user can shut down none active parts of the SoC circuit.

Question: What are the latency numbers for waking up different domains that have been put to sleep?

Soubra: The numbers that I shared during the presentation do not include any peripherals since I have no way of knowing what peripherals will be added. In terms of who is consuming what power, the normal progression tends to be the processor, peripherals, bus and then the flash block. The “wake-up” state latency depends upon the implementation itself. You can go from tens-of-cycles to multiple-of-tens depending upon how the clocks and phase locked loops (PLLs) are implemented. If we shut everything down, then a few cycles will be required before everything goes off an, before we can restart the processor. But we are talking about tens not hundreds of cycles.

Question: And for the wake-up clock latency?

Soubra: Wake-up is the same thing, because when the wake-up controller says “lets go,” it has to restart all the clocks before it starts the processor. So it is exactly the same amount.

ARM Cortex-M low power technologies.

Question: What analog intellectual property (IP) components are offered by ARM and Cadence? How can designers integrate their own IP in the flow?

Nizic: At Cadence, through the acquisition of Cosmic, we have a portfolio of applicable analog and mixed signal IP, e.g., converters, sensors and the like. We support all design views that are necessary for this kind of methodology including model abstracts from real number to behavioral models. Like ARM’s physical IP, all of ours are qualified for the various foundry nodes so the process of integrating IP and silicon is fairly smooth.

Soubra: From ARM’s point-of-view, we are totally focused on the digital part of the SoC, including the processors, bus infrastructure components, peripherals, and memory controllers that are part of the physical IP (standard cell libraries, I/O cells, SRAM, etc). Designers integrate the digital parts (processors, bus components, peripherals and memory controller) in RTL design stages. Also, they can add the functional simulation models of memories and I/O cells in simulations, together with models of analog components from Cadence. The actual physical IP are integrated during various implementation stages (synthesis, placement and routing, etc).

Question: How can designers integrate their own IP into the SoC?

Nizic: Some of the capabilities and flows that we described are actually used to create customer IP for later reuse in SoC integration. There is a centric flow that can be used, whether the customer’s IP is pure analog or contains a small amount of standard cell digital. For example, the behavioral modeling capabilities help package this IP for the functional simulation in full chip verification. But getting the IP ready is only one aspect of the flow.

From a physical abstract it’s possible to characterize the IP for use in timing driven mode. This approach would allow you to physically verify the IP on the SoC for full chip verification.

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One Response to “Digital Designers Grapple with Analog Mixed Signal Designs”

  1. Analog Designers Face Low Power Challenges | John E. Blyler Says:

    [...] As with digital engineers, analog and mixed signal power designers must consider ways to lower power consumption early in the design phase. Beyond that consideration, there are several common ways to reduce the analog mixed signal portion of a power budget. These ways include low-power transmitter architectures; analog signal processing in low-voltage domains; and sleep mode power reduction. (ARM’s Diya Soubra takes about mixed signal sleep modes in, “Digital Designers Grapple with Analog Mixed Signal Designs.”) [...]

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