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Newer Processes Raise ESL Issues

Gabe Moretti, Senior Editor

In June I wrote about   how EDA changed its traditional flow in order to support advanced semiconductors manufacturing.  I do not think that, although the changes are significant and meaningful they are enough to sustain the increase in productivity required by financial demands.  What is necessary, in my opinion, is a better support for system level developers.

Leaving the solution to design and integration problems to a later stage of the development process creates more complexity since the network impacted is much larger.  Each node in the architecture is now a collection of components and primitive electronic elements that dilute and thus hide the intended functional architecture.

Front End Design Issues

Changes in the way front end design is done are being implemented.  Anand Iyer, Calypto’s Director of Product Marketing focused on the need to plan power at system level.  He observed that: “Addressing DFP issues need to done in the front end tools, as the RTL logic structure and architecture choices determines 80% of the power. Designers need to minimize the activity/clock frequency across their designs since this is the only metric to control dynamic power. They can achieve this in many ways: (1) Reducing activity permanently from their design, (2) Reduce activity temporarily during the active mode of the design.”  Anand went on to cover the two points: “The first point requires a sequential analysis of the entire design to identify opportunities where we can save power. These opportunities need to be evaluated against possible timing and area impact. We need automation when it comes to large and complex designs. PowerPro can help designers optimize their designs for activity.”

As for the other point he said: “The second issue requires understanding the interaction of hardware and software. Techniques like power gating and DVFS fall under this category.”

Anand also recognized that high level synthesis can be used to achieve low power designs.  Starting from C++ or SystemC, architects can produce alternative microarchitectures and see the power impact of their choices (with physically aware RTL power analysis).  This is hugely powerful to enable exploration because if this is done only at RTL it is time consuming and unrealistic to actually try multiple implementations of a complex design.  Plus, the RTL low power techniques are automatically considered and automatically implemented once you have selected the best architecture that meets your power, performance, and cost constraints.

Steve Carlson, Director of Marketing at Cadence pointed out that about a decade ago design teams had their choice of about four active process nodes when planning their designs.  He noted that: “In 2014 there are ten or more active choices for design teams to consider.  This means that solution space for product design has become a lot more rich.  It also means that design teams needs a more fine grained approach to planning and vendor/node selection.  It follows that the assumptions made during the planning process need to be tested as early and often, and with as much accuracy as possible at each stage. The power/performance and area trade-offs create end product differentiation.  One area that can certainly be improved is the connection to trade-offs between hardware architecture and software.  Getting more accurate insight into power profiles can enable trade-offs at the architectural and micro architectural levels.

Perhaps less obvious is the need for process accurate early physical planning (i.e., understands design rules for coloring, etc.).”

As shown in the following figure designers have to be aware that parts of the design are coming from different suppliers and thus Steve states that: “It is essential for the front-end physical planning/prototyping stages of design to be process-aware to prevent costly surprises down the implementation road.”

Simulation and Verification

One of the major recent changes in IC design is the growing number of mixed/signals designs.  They present new design and verification challenges particularly when new advanced processes are targeted for manufacturing.  On the standard development side Accellera has responded by releasing a new version of its Verilog-AMS.  It is a mature standard originally released in 2000. It is built on top of the Verilog subset of the IEEE 1800 -2012 SystemVerilog.  The standard defines how analog behavior interacts with event-based functionality, providing a bridge between the analog and digital worlds. To model continuous-time behavior, Verilog-AMS is defined to be applicable to both electrical and non-electrical system descriptions.  It supports conservative and signal-flow descriptions and can also be used to describe discrete (digital) systems and the resulting mixed-signal interactions.

The revised standard, Verilog-AMS 2.4, includes extensions to benefit verification, behavioral modeling and compact modeling. There are also several clarifications and over 20 errata fixes that improve the overall quality of the standard.Resources on how best to use the standard and a sample library with power and domain application examples are available from Accellera.

Scott Little, chair of the Verilog AMS WG stated: “This revision adds several features that users have been requesting for some time, such as supply sensitive connect modules, an analog event type to enable efficient electrical-to-real conversion and current checker modules.”

The standard continues to be refined and extended to meet the expanding needs of various user communities. The Verilog-AMS WG is currently exploring options to align Verilog-AMS with SystemVerilog in the form of a dot standard to IEEE 1800. In addition, work is underway to focus on new features and enhancements requested by the community to improve mixed-signal design and verification.

Clearly another aspect of verification that has grown significantly in the past few years is the availability of Verification IP modules.  Together with the new version of the UVM 1.2 (Universal Verification Methodology) standard just released by Accellera, they represent a significant increment in the verification power available to designers.

Jonah McLeod, Director of Corporate Marketing Communications at Kilopass, is also concerned about analog issues.  He said: “Accelerating Spice has to be major tool development of this generation of tools. The biggest problem designers face in complex SoC is getting corner cases to converge. This can be time consuming an imprecise with current generation tools.  Start-ups claiming montecarlo spice accelerations like Solido Design Automation and CLK Design Automation are attempting to solve the problem. Both promise to achieve Spice-level accuracy on complex circuits within a couple of percentage points in a fraction of the time.”

One area of verification that is not often covered is its relationship with manufacturing test.  Thomas L. Anderson, Vice President of Marketing at Breker Verification Systems told me that: “The enormous complexity of a deep submicron (32, 38, 20, 14 nm) SoC has a profound impact on manufacturing test. Today, many test engineers treat the SoC as a black box, applying stimulus and checking results only at the chip I/O pins. Some write a few simple C tests to download into the SoC’s embedded processors and run as part of the manufacturing test process. Such simple tests do not validate the chip well, and many companies are seeing returns with defects missed by the tester. Test time limitations typically prohibit the download and run of an operating system and user applications, but clearly a better test is needed. The answer is available today: automatically generated C test cases that run on “bare metal” (no operating system) while stressing every aspect of the SoC. These run realistic user scenarios in multi-threaded, multi-processor mode within the SoC while coordinating with the I/O pins. These test cases validate far more functionality and performance before the SoC ever leaves the factory, greatly reducing return rates while improving the customer experience.”

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