A View from the Top: A Virtual Prototyping Blog


Closing the Loop to Increase Design Flow Predictability

This is a follow up post to my July 7th Blog entry called “Dealing with Moving Targets in Interesting Times”. In response to Nokia selling its modem division to Renesas I had thought about who the actual customers for system-design tools are in a landscape of consolidation and change. It turns out that there are actually more parties involved these days, which increases the potential for business but makes the interaction a bit more intricate. We are about to close the loop to manufacturing even tighter, just like we did in the days of PKS – Physically Knowledgeable Synthesis – back a decade ago.

imageI remember those days quite clearly – has it really been ten years? When searching for “PKS” I found headlines like “IBM Integrates Envisia PKS Into Its ASIC Design Flow”, “Cadence’s Ambit PKS speeds tapeout at EmpowerTel Networks” and “Cadence Envisia Physically Knowledgeable Synthesis Selected by Ericsson Microwave Systems AB; Cadence Envisia PKS Used For Successful Million-Gate Production Design”. These headlines were all from about mid 2000. I am getting sentimental – at that time I was the product manager for Cierto Virtual Component Co-Design (VCC), which was probably 10 years ahead of its time. Somehow corporate had hired a leftover consultant to rename all or products to sound like cars. And I remember being somewhat jealous of my colleague’s situation in synthesis, because unlike us in the “Cierto” system-level flow, the “Envisia” guys in synthesis just had found a way to connect to the main business of layout and implementation. They made the next level down in abstraction – layout – part of their flow. The static predictions of what the impact of layout on timing would be, were simply running out of steam. Layout and synthesis would be integrated, or at that time, at least synthesis became layout aware. From a business perspective this meant that the next abstraction level up – logic synthesis – was connecting directly to the main business.

So ten years later I find myself looking at an ever changing landscape of customers. System Houses like Nokia abandon hardware and do only software. Semiconductor houses like TI, Marvell and Freescale provide more and more software as part of their complex platforms. IP providers like Tensilica combine their IP and software to provide sub-systems. In that changing landscape we are now starting to connect the manufacturing of foundries with the system-level world of transaction-level models – we are closing the loop just like ten years ago logic synthesis did. The picture on the left illustrates what is happening. Properties like power, performance and area (PPA) are characterized at the foundry level and annotated into system-level transaction-level models. As a result the design flow becomes more predictable and decisions can move up in the design chain to the user who defines the architecture, more and more the system house based on the software architecture.

Here are two examples which underline this point:

  • TSMC recently announced Reference Flow 11, in which users for the first time ever now can get a foundry defined reference flow for system-level design. In the examples users can analyze their technology choice’s impact on power at the transaction-level the effect  .
  • At the Interoperability Breakfast at DAC, Subramani Kengeri (Global Foundries) presented together with John Cornish (ARM) and Joachim Kunkel (Synopsys), how IP Providers, Foundries and System-Level Tool Providers interact more closely to provide technology characterizations into transaction-level models. All of this is meant to raise the level of abstraction at which design decisions happen. Global Foundries was specifically pointing to Virtual Prototypes as “Application optimized Integrated Platforms and Collaborative System Design Solutions” at the system-level combined with “Automated Precision Manufacturing (APM) and Early enablement of System level views” at the silicon level.

History repeats itself! Ten years on I find myself in the same situation as my “Envisia”colleagues were ten years ago. We are starting to close the loop from system-level to implementation! All this is great news and probably yet another indicator that the marker for system-level design tools is finally moving towards mainstream.

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