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On-chip networks: Future of SoC design


Selection of the right on-chip network is critical to meeting the requirements of today’s advanced SoCs. There is easy IP integration with IP cores from many sources with different protocols, and an UVM verification environment.

John Bainbridge, staff technologist, CTO Office, Sonics Inc., said that it optimizes the system performance. Virtual channels offer efficient resource usage – saves gates and wires. The non-blocking network leads to an improved system performance. There are flexible topology choices with optimal network to match requirements.

Power management is key with advanced system partitioning, and an improved design flow and timing closure. Finally, the development environment allows easy design capture and has performance analysis tools.

For the record, there are several SoC integration challenges that need to be addressed, such as IP integration, frequency, throughput, physical design, power management, security, time-to-market and development costs.

SGN exceeds requirements
SGN met the tablet performance requirement with fabric frequency of 1066MHz. It has an efficient gate count of 508K gates. There are Sonicsfeatures such as an advanced system partitioning, security and I/O coherency. There is support for system concurrency as well as advanced power management.

Sonics offers system IP solutions such as SGN, a router based NoC solution, with flexible partitioning and VC (Virtual Channel) support. The frequency is optimized with credit based flow control.

SSX/SLX is message based crossbar/ShareLink solutions based on interleaved multi-channel technology. It has target based QoS with three arbitration levels. The SonicsExpress is for power centric clock domain crossing. There is sub-system re-use and decoupling. The MemMax manages and optimizes the DRAM efficiency while maintaining system QoS. There is run-time programmability for all traffic types. The SonicsConnect is a non-blocking peripheral interconnect.

What technology SoC engineers need for next-gen chips?


About 318 engineers and managers completed a blind, anonymous survey on ‘On-Chip Communications Networks (OCCN), also referred to as an “on-chip networks”, defined as the entire interconnect fabric for an SoC. The on-chip communications network report was done by Sonics Inc. A summary of some of the highlights is as follows.

The average estimated time spent on designing, modifying and/or verifying on-chip communications networks was 28 percent (for the respondents that knew their estimate time).

The two biggest challenges for implementing OCCNs were meeting product specifications and balancing frequency, latency and throughput. Second tier challenges were integrating IP elements/sub-systems and getting timing closure.

As for 2013 SoC design expectations, a majority of respondents are targeting a core speed of at least 1 GHz for SoCs design starts within the next 12 months, based on those respondents that knew their target core speeds. Forty percent of respondents expect to have 2-5 power domain partitions for their next SoC design.

A variety of topologies are being considered for respondents’ next on-chip communications networks, including NoCs (half), followed by crossbars, multi-layer bus matrices and peripheral interconnects; respondents that knew their plans here, were seriously considering an average of 1.7 different topologies.

Source: Sonics Inc., USA.

Source: Sonics Inc., USA.

Twenty percent of respondents stated they already had a commercial Network-on-Chip (NoC) implemented or plan to implement one in the next 12 months, while over a quarter plan to evaluate a NoC over the next 12 months. A NoC was defined as a configurable network interconnect that packetizes address/data for multicore SoCs.

For respondents who had an opinion when commercial Networks-on-Chip became an important consideration versus internal development when implementing an SoC, 43 percent said they would consider commercial NoCs at 10 or fewer cores; approximately two-thirds said they would consider commercial NoCs at 20 or fewer cores.

The survey participants’ top three criteria for selecting a Network on Chip were: scalability-adaptability, quality of service and system verification, followed by layout friendly, support for power domain partitioning. Half of respondents saw reduced wiring congestion as the primary reason to use virtual channels, followed by increased throughput and meeting system concurrency with limited bandwidth.

Sonics participates in TSMC’s Soft IP Alliance 2.0 beta program

November 30, 2012 2 comments

Milpitas, USA-based Sonics Inc. participated in TSMC’s Soft IP Alliance 2.0 beta program. Driving high quality soft IP eases customer integration and expedites time-to-market.

Sonic’s role in TSMC beta program
Speaking on the beta program and Sonics’ role, Frank Ferro, director of Product Marketing, Sonics, said: “TSMC’s Soft IP kit 2.0 beta program is part of TSMC’s Open Innovation Platform program that creates a complete ecosystem for customers with the overall goal of shortening design time. This is done by providing a large catalog of partner provided IP that is silicon-verified and production-proven.

A complex SoC with Sonics’ SGN on-chip network.

For vendors like Sonics, TSMC has extended this ecosystem to include Soft-IP (IP not designed for a specific process, but delivered as RTL). The program allows Soft-IP partners to access and leverage TSMC’s process technologies to optimize power, performance and area for their IP.

IP cores are checked through TSMC’s foundry checklist to ensure the customers have optimized design results with fast IP integration built into their design. This flow also facilitates easy IP reuse for subsequent designs. The soft IP Kit beta 2.0 program is an extension of the current program through implementing additional quality checks, improving results and making the flow easier for customers.

There are several advantages to Sonics as a participant in this program. First, customers of TSMC will have access to Sonics IP through TSMC’s IP library. Given TSMC’s strong market share, this will allow Sonics IP to be visible to a large customer base. In addition, TSMC’s customers will feel securing using Sonics IP because they know that it has been put through a rigorous series of IP checks that meet the highest quality standards. It also allows Sonics early access to TSMC’s process libraries, allowing Sonics to optimize performance and area for each IP product.

So, what can the TSMC’s Soft IP Kit 2.0 do? How does Sonics enhance its capabilities? The Soft IP Kit 2.0 provides a specific RTL design flow methodology and hand-off which includes: lint (RTL coding consistency), clock domain crossings (CDC), power (CPF/UPF), physical design (routing congestion), design for test (DFT), constraints and documentation.

Using this flow enhances Sonics IP quality and reliability because many RTL errors can be caught at an early stage. As mentioned above, this flow ensures lowest power and best performance of the IP for a given process node.

Atrenta SpyGlass improves packaging
There is a role played by Atrenta SpyGlass. According to Ferro, Atrenta SpyGlass is the tool used to run all the tests. The flow was developed to TSMC’s standards and implemented by Atrenta.  Given Sonics strong relationship with TSMC and Atrenta, we were invited to be a beta partner using our IP to test the new flow. A number of companies do participate in the program, although only Sonics has announced participation in the beta 2.0 program to date.

This tie up with Atrenta will likely improve IP packaging. As part of the overall flow, the final step, after all basic and advanced IP checks, is IP packaging. This step includes providing the IP with information on the design intent, set-up and analysis reports. Again, this is done using the SpyGlass tool from Atrenta.

This IP packaging was available to customers in the past via the Soft IP 1.0 program. The attraction of this type of IP packaging is a result of the growing number of IP cores being integrated into complex SoCs. As the number of third party IP grew, the need for a better, broader methodology was developed.
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