Posted by frank schirrmeister on February 17, 2010
To deal with the complexity increases, the abstraction level at which the design entry happens, has evolved over the last 30 years. In my first blog posts I had reviewed the evolution from transistors to gates to RTL and now to the transaction level. In Slartibartfast’s world this evolution of granularity (the level at which designers think) is equivalent to designing at a building floor plan level, house level, street level and city-level as indicated in the graph on the left.
In the good old days, Slartibartfast’s employer was an integrated design house called Texas Instrumentus, TIUS. They were doing everything from the design to the actual manufacturing of the projects to be used on various planets. TIUS at the time even had a set of design tool developed in-house, helping Slartibartfast to design the 500 houses and connections they had to do at that time in average. The automation tools were purely graphical and once a design was finished, a data file (called GDSII) was sent to manufacturing who would produce the specified worlds en mass.
Given the complexity increase from 500 houses 30 years ago to 10 billion today and a projected 500 billion in 10 years, productivity had to increase quite a bit. The oracle ITRS does not only think stuff up about the future, they also have a team of historians documenting the past. Just yesterday Slartibartfast had pulled up some of the old ITRS records to explain to his intern, that in the last 15 to 20 years alone design productivity has improved 580% through re-use and 336% through methodology improvements. And yes, in addition engineers have become “tall, thin and smarter” too 🙂
Design automation had a major role in productivity improvements. Back in 1979 Slartibartfast and his teams were drawing each house individually using schematic entry, defining the exact positions and connections manually. Design automation soon invented automated layout. Only the positions needed to be defined and then automated layout tools would automatically create the connections. Later on, at the building and street level, logic synthesis allowed to describe the intended design using a language defining all the houses, functional units and their individual connections. The logic synthesis tools would then suggest an implementation of the desired functionality based on speed, area and power consumption constraints set by the user.
In addition, re-use played a crucial role. Instead of designing each portion of the bay area by hand, the basic building blocks were pulled from pre-defined libraries. At first, for “small block re-use”, libraries of basic design elements were introduced in about 1997: kitchens, bathrooms, hallways, gardens, doors etc. Later, for large block re-use starting about 1999, complete houses, town homes, theatres, schools, streets and intersections increased productivity even further. Very large block reuse really just found its adoption a couple of years ago around 2007. Now re-use happened at a much larger scale. For specific interfaces, like for example the interface to the sea called USH (Universal Serial Harbor), it really did not make sense to design it from scratch every time. There were Intellectual Property (IP) providers, who could provide design teams with pre-defined USH designs ready to be included. They typically had even tested them using various manufacturing technologies so that Slartibartfast and his teams did not have to worry about it. The Oakland harbor is a good example, Slartibartfast fondly still remembers the negotiation with SYNOPYSOS, the biggest supplier of connectivity IP, from which he had bought the Oakland USH interface and it immediately worked perfectly.
Design for sure has changed over the last 30 years and at times if had been difficult for Slartibartfast to keep up with all the new tools and methodologies. The next installment of this series will deal with simulation and verification. Not only does the bay area need to be implemented fast and on time, but it also has to be verified and validated. That means it has to do what the specification requests and it also needs to meet the customer’s intent. In order for this to happen, we will discuss technologies for simulation and verification in the next blog post.
Patrick Sheridan is responsible for Synopsys' system-level solution for virtual prototyping. In addition to his responsibilities at Synopsys, from 2005 through 2011 he served as the Executive Director of the Open SystemC Initiative (now part of the Accellera Systems Initiative). Mr. Sheridan has 30 years of experience in the marketing and business development of high technology hardware and software products for Silicon Valley companies.
Malte Doerper is responsible for driving the software oriented virtual prototyping business at Synopsys. Today he is based in Mountain View, California. Malte also spent over 7 years in Tokyo, Japan, where he led the customer facing program management practice for the Synopsys system-level products. Malte has over 12 years’ experiences in all aspects of system-level design ranging from research, engineering, product management and business development. Malte joined Synopsys through the CoWare acquisition, before CoWare he worked as researcher at the Institute for Integrated Signal Processing Systems at the Aachen University of Technology, Germany.
Tom De Schutter
Tom De Schutter is responsible for driving the physical prototyping business at Synopsys. He joined Synopsys through the acquisition of CoWare where he was the product marketing manager for transaction-level models. Tom has over 10 years of experience in system-level design through different marketing and engineering roles. Before joining the marketing team he led the transaction-level modeling team at CoWare.