A View from the Top: A Virtual Prototyping Blog


The Final Four in SoC Design

Before March Madness and the Final Four Butler win become too much of a distant memory, I wanted to briefly write about a different kind of “Final Four”, the four challenges which KH Kim, Executive Vice President, Samsung Electronics, Co., Ltd., presented at day three of the recent Synopsys Users Group (SNUG). The audience was in for a treat, the presentation was great in structure, content and delivery!


First, KH Kim was setting up the challenges using great examples from his ASIC view of the world. Worldwide consumer electronics sales was growing by 13% in 2010 and projected 10% in 2011 driven by smart phones, TVs and PCs, Apps are a major trend for all devices in video, gaming and business. The mobile Internet together with “apps everywhere” is accelerating smartphone adoption, which in exchange becomes the connective hub with other devices & services. TVs are becoming the hub for home entertainment, integrating gaming, internet, and video services. An finally, ubiquitous connectivity and consumers’ demand for 24×7 connectivity leads to a cloud and web-centric world. All this led to the set of graphs shown in the first picture I took here, summarizing the implications for SoC Design. Processing – the combination of CPU performance and GPU performance – Samsung sees growing by a factor of 50 from 2010 to 2012, while bandwidth requirements, the combination of memory and network bandwidth is growing by a factor of 250!

From this daunting prediction, KH Kim went on to articulate the “Final Four” Challenges in SoC Design:

  • High Performance with Low Power
    • Given challenges to CPU Performance and GPU Performance, SoCs can only be kept within Low Power budgets using Multicore CPUs (of course only shifting the challenges into programming), Multicore GPUs, low power design taking into account application scenarios and HPMG processes enabling transistor scaling.
  • High Bandwidth
    • The bandwidth challenges on memories and networks can be addressed by increasing 4G network bandwidth, the switch to serial interfaces to avoid signal skew and cross talk and Through Silicon Via (TSV) increasing electrical performance and overall memory bandwidth
  • Design Complexity
    • According to Samsung new features & functions have increased the IP count by more than 22x from 90nm to 28nm, gate counts have increased by more than 16x, while the chip size only doubled. As solution, process migration becomes a must to deal with the increase of chip sizes and 3D ICs with TSV seem unavoidable.
  • Short Turnaround Time (TAT)
    • Well, the rate of growth in design productivity is still much lower than Moore’s law resulting in increasing design times, while product life-cycles are shortening over time, which demands fast design TAT. The only way to deal with that are the use of IP,which Samsung sees evolving into sub-systems of discrete IP blocks connected through busses doing computation and communication. Software is overtaking the hardware effort and the trend toward multi-core designs further complicates software development & debug. Samsung sees Platform Based Design as a key requirement, for which virtual prototyping has emerged to enable early (pre-silicon) software development. Finally, Samsung sees ESL (Electronic System Level) design being at the early stage of adoption to close the design productivity gap!


As a system-level guy I am of course very much excited about Samsung adopting and pointing out system-level design as key solution to the fourth challenge.

High degrees of automation in architecture design, high-level synthesis, transaction-level modeling and virtual prototyping become key for faster TAT, higher Quality of Results (QoR) and earlier software development.

The photo I took of the appropriate slide is shown on the left … and the arrow used here  is very akin to the graph I used in the first blog post I ever wrote. System-level design has reached the foundries! It is not alone, but recognized as one of the key solutions to the four main challenges.

The road was long … but we are getting there!

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