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How’s global semicon industry performing in sub-20nm era?

December 22, 2013 Comments off

Early this month, I caught up with Jaswnder Ahuja, corporate VP and MD, Cadence Desiign Systems India. With the global semiconductor industry having entered the sub-20nm era, there are a lot of things happening, and Cadence is sure to be present.

Performance in sub-2onm era
First, let’s see how’s the global semiconductor industry performing after entering the sub-20nm era.

Jaswinder Ahuja

Jaswinder Ahuja

Ahuja replied: “Increased demand for faster, smaller, low-power chips continues to drive the geometry shrink as one of the ways to manage the low-power, higher performance goals in smaller form factors—in other words, PPA is driving the move to advanced node design.

“At Cadence, we are seeing a lot of interest in the wireless space, which includes smartphones, tablets, and consumer devices. In this market, you must support different standards, the device must be really fast, it must have Internet access, and all this must be done at lower power so the that it does not drain the battery. We’re also seeing interest for advanced nodes in other segments such as computing and graphics processors.”

When speaking of advanced nodes, let’s also try and find out what Cadence is doing in helping achieve 10X faster power integrity analysis and signoff.

Cadence Voltus IC power integrity Solution is a full-chip, cell-level power signoff tool that provides accurate, fast, and high-capacity analysis and optimization technologies to designers for debugging, verifying, and fixing IC chip power consumption, IR drop, and electromigration (EM) constraints and violations.

The Voltus solution includes innovative technologies such as massively parallel execution, hierarchical architecture, and physically aware power grid analysis and optimization. Beneficial as a standalone power signoff tool, Voltus IC Power Integrity Solution delivers even more significant productivity gains when used in a highly integrated flow with other key Cadence products, providing the industry’s fastest design closure technology.

Developed with advanced algorithms and a new power integrity analysis engine with massively parallel execution, Voltus IC Power Integrity solution:
* Performs 10X faster than other solutions on the market.
* Supports very large designs—up to one billion instances—with its hierarchical architecture.
* Delivers SPICE-level accuracy.
* Enhances physical implementation quality via physically aware power integrity optimization.

Supported by major foundries and intellectual property (IP) providers, Voltus IC Power Integrity Solution has been validated and certified on advanced nodes processes such as 16nm FinFET and included in reference design flows such as for 3D-IC technology. Backed by Cadence’s rigorous quality control and product release procedures, the Voltus solution delivers best-in-class signoff quality on accuracy and stability for all process nodes and design technologies.

FinFETs to 20nm – are folks benefiting?
It is common news that FinFETs have gone to 20nm and perhaps, lower. Therefore, are those folks looking for power reduction now benefiting?

Ahuja replied that FinFETs allow semiconductor and systems companies to continue to develop commercially viable chips for the mobile devices that are dominating the consumer market. FinFETs enable new generations of high-density, high-performance, and ultra-low-power systems on chip (SoCs) for future smart phones, tablets, and other advanced mobile devices. Anyone who adopts FinFET technology will reap the benefits.

Foundry support for FinFETs will begin at 16nm and 14nm. In April of this year, Cadence announced a collaboration with ARM to implement the industry’s first ARM Cortex-A57 processor on TSMC’s 16nm FinFET manufacturing process. At ARM TechCon 2012, Cadence announced a 14nm test chip tapeout using an ARM Cortex-M0 processor and IBM’s FinFET process technology.
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Higher levels of abstraction growth area for EDA

September 1, 2013 2 comments

Dr. Ajoy Bose

Dr. Ajoy Bose

San Jose, USA-based Atrenta’s SpyGlass Predictive Analyzer gives engineers a powerful guidance dashboard that enables efficient verification and optimization of SoC designs early, before expensive and time-consuming traditional EDA tools are deployed. I recently met up with Dr. Ajoy Bose, chairman, president and CEO, Atrenta, to find out more.

I started by asking how Atrenta provides early design analysis for logic designers? He said: “The key ingredient is something we call predictive analysis. That is, we need to analyze a design at a high level of abstraction and predict what will happen when it undergoes detailed implementation. We have a rich library of algorithms that provide highly accurate ‘predictions’, without the time and cost required to actually send a design through detailed implementation.”

There’s a saying: electronic system level (ESL) is where the future of EDA lies. Why? Its because the lower level of abstraction (detailed implementation) of the EDA market is undergoing commoditization and consolidation. There are fewer solutions, and less differentiation between them. At the upper levels of abstraction (ESL), this is not the case. There still exists ample opportunity to provide new and innovative solutions.

Now, how will this help EDA to move up the embedded software space? According to Dr. Bose, the ability to do true hardware/software co-design is still not a solved problem. Once viable solutions are developed, then EDA will be able to sell to the embedded software engineer. This will be a new market, and new revenue for EDA.

How are SpyGlass and GenSys platforms helping the industry? What problems are those solving? Dr. Ajoy Bose said: “SpyGlass is Atrenta’s platform for RTL signoff. It is used by virtually all SoC design teams to ensure the power, performance and cost of their SoC is as good as it can be prior to handoff to detailed implementation.SpyGlass is also used to select and qualify semiconductor IP – a major challenge for all SoC design teams.

“GenSys provides a way to easily assemble and modify designs at the RTL level of abstraction. As a lot of each SoC is re-used design data, the need to modify this data to fit the new design is very prevalent. GenSys provides an easy, correct-by-construction way to get this job done.”

How does the SpyGlass solve RTL design issues, ensuring high quality RTL with fewer design bugs? He added that it’s the predictive analysis technology. SpyGlass provides accurate and relevant information about what will happen when a design is implemented and tested. By fixing these problems early, at RTL, a much higher quality design is handed off to detailed implementation with fewer bugs and associated schedule challenges.

On another note, I asked him why Apple’s choice of chips a factor in influencing the global chip industry? The primary reason is their volume and buying power. Apple is something of a “King Maker” when it comes to who manufactures their chips. Apple is also a thought leader and trend setter, so their decisions affect the decisions of others.

Finally, the global semiconductor industry! How is the global semicon industry doing in H1-2013? As per Dr. Bose: “We see strong growth.  Our customers are undertaking many new designs at advanced process technology nodes. We think that this speaks well for future growth of the industry.  At a macro level, the consumer sector will drive a lot of the growth ahead.  For EDA, the higher levels of abstraction is where the growth will be.”

Moore’s Law good for 14nm, and probably, 10nm: Dr. Wally Rhines

May 31, 2013 Comments off

Its a pleasure to talk to Dr. Walden (Wally) C. Rhines, chairman and CEO, Mentor Graphics Corp. On his way to DAC 2013, where he will be giving a ten-minute “Visionary Talk”, he found time to speak with me. First, I asked him given that the global semiconductor industry is entering the sub-20nm era, will it continue to be ‘business as usual’ or ‘it’s going to be different this time’?

Dr. Wally Rhines.

Dr. Wally Rhines.

Dr. Rhines said: “Every generation has some differences, even though it usually seems like we’ve seen all this before. The primary change that comes with “sub-20nm” is the change in transistor structure to FinFET. This will give designers a boost toward achieving lower power. However, compared to 28nm, there will be a wafer cost penalty to pay for the additional process complexity that also includes two additional levels of resolution enhancement.”

Impact of new transistor structures
How will the new transistor structures impact on design and manufacturing?

According to him, the relatively easy impact on design is related to the simulation of a new device structure; models have already been developed and characterized but will be continuously updated until the processes are stable. More complex are the requirements for place and route and verification; support for “fin grids” and new routing and placement rules has already been implemented by the leading place and route suppliers.

He added: “Most complex is test; FinFET will require transistor-level (or “cell-aware”) design for test to detect failures, rather than just the traditional gate-level stuck-at fault models. Initial results suggest that failure to move to cell-aware ATPG will result in 500 to 1000 DPM parts being shipped to customers.

“Fortunately, “cell-aware” ATPG design tools have been available for about a year and are easily implemented with no additional EDA cost. Finally, there will be manufacturing challenges but, like all manufacturing challenges, they will be attacked, analyzed and resolved as we ramp up more volume.”

Introducing 450mm wafer handling and new lithography
Is it possible to introduce 450mm wafer handling and new lithography successfully at this point in time?

“Yes, of course,” Dr. Rhines said. “However, there are a limited number of companies that have the volume of demand to justify the investment. The wafer diameter transition decision is always a difficult one for the semiconductor manufacturing equipment companies because it is so costly and it requires a minimum volume of machines for a payback. In this case, it will happen. The base of semiconductor manufacturing equipment companies is becoming very concentrated and most of the large ones need the 450mm capability.”

What will be the impact of transistor variability and other physics issues?

As per Dr. Rhines, the impact should be significant. FinFET, for example requires controlling physical characteristics of multiple fins within a narrow range of variability. As geometries shrink, small variations become big percentages. New design challenges are always interesting for engineers but the problems will be overcome relatively quickly.
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Global semiconductor companies delivering platforms: Jaswinder Ahuja, Cadence


Jaswinder Ahuja.

Jaswinder Ahuja.

Some time ago, Cadence Design Systems Inc. had announced the EDA360 vision! As per Jaswinder Ahuja, corporate VP and MD of Cadence Design Systems India, the Cadence vision of EDA360 is said to be well and alive. The organization has been aligned around the EDA360 vision.

The EDA360 is a five-year vision for defining the trends in the EDA industry, based on what Cadence is observing in the industry and the direction in which, it feels, the industry will go.

At Cadence,  the Silicon Realization Group is headed by Dr. Chi-ping Hsu. The SoC Realization Group is headed by Martin Lund, and Nimish Modi is looking after the System Realization Group. Cadence’s focus has been on in-house development and innovation. Tempus has been a major announcement from the Silicon Realization Group.

What’s going on with EDA360?
There has been a renewed thrust in the SoC Realization Group at Cadence. Already, there have been three acquisitions this year — Cosmic Circuits, Tensilica and Evatronix. Cadence is buying the IP part of the business from Evatronix. This acquisition is ongoing and will be announced in June 2013.

On the relationship between the electronics and the EDA industries, Ahuja said the electronics industry is going through a transition, and that the EDA industry needs to change. The importance of system-level design has increased. Companies are currently focusing on optimizing the end user experience.
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Cadence Tempus accelerates timing analysis and closure by weeks!

May 24, 2013 Comments off

Cadence Design Systems Inc. has announced the Tempus timing signoff solution. It facilitates ground-breaking signoff timing analysis and closure. The new technology accelerates timing analysis and closure by weeks. It is said to be up to 10X faster than competing solutions. Tempus has also been endorsed by Texas Instruments (TI).

TempusComplexity is growing exponentially and signoff is the bottleneck. There is an increasing design complexity. Low power is important across markets — from smartphones to datacenters. Time to market remains critical as well. Feature-rich devices are growing the design size.

Timing closure schedule and complexity have been increasing. In fact, up until now, timing closure solutions are said to have not kept pace with design complexity. The number of timing views are increasing with each new process node. The increased margins make timing closure very difficult. Exponential growth in design size and complexity are stretching the analysis capacity. Time in signoff closure has been increasing up to 40 percent of the design flow at 20nm.

Come Tempus!
The Tempus timing signoff solution is big on performance, accuracy and closure. For performance, it facilitates massively parallelized computation, is scalable to 100s of CPUs and there are optimized data structures. It allows up to 10X faster path-based analysis (PBA) and advanced process modeling for accuracy. Finally, for closure, it provides up to 10X reduction in closure time, is placement and routing aware and offers unlimited MMMC capacity.

Tempus offers an unprecedented performance, and handles 100s of millions of cells flat! It has an innovative hierarchical/incremental analysis. For design closure, the multi-mode, multi-corner (MMMC) is distributed or concurrent. There is physically aware optimization, such as graph- or path-based. The PBA is a detailed view of timing based on slew propagation.

With Tempus, Cadence is solving the design complexity challenge by eliminating the signoff bottleneck and enabling customers to meet power, performance and time-to-market goals.

Semicon in sub-20nm era: Business as usual or different?


We are now entering the sub-20nm era. So, will it be business as usual or is it going to be different this time? With DAC 2013 around the corner, I met up with John Chilton, senior VP, Marketing and Strategic Development for Synopsys to find out more regarding the impact of new transistor structures on design and manufacturing, 450mm wafers and the impact of transistor variability.

Impact of new transistor structures on design and manufacturing
First, let us understand what will be the impact of new transistor structures on design and manufacturing.

John Chilton.

John Chilton.

Chilton said: “Most of the impact is really on the manufacturing end since they are effectively 3D transistors. Traditional lithography methods would not work for manufacturing the tall and thin fins where self-aligned double patterning steps are now required.

“Our broad, production-proven products have all been updated to handle the complexity of FinFETs from both the manufacturing and the designer’s end.

“From the design implementation perspective, the foundries’ and Synopsys’ goal is to provide a transparent adoption process where the methodology (from Metal 1 and above) remains essentially the same as that of previous nodes where products have been updated to handle the process complexity.”

Given the scenario, will it be possible to introduce 450mm wafer handling and new lithography successfully?

According to Chilton: “This is a question best asked of the semiconductor manufacturers and equipment vendors. Our opinion is ‘very likely’.” The semiconductor manufacturers, equipment vendors, and the EDA tool providers have a long history of introducing new technology successfully when the economics of deploying the technology is favorable.

The 300nm wafer deployment was quite complex, but was completed, for example. The introduction of double patterning at 20nm is another recent example in which manufacturers, equipment vendors and EDA companies work together to deploy a new technology.

Impact of transistor variability and other physics issues
Finally, what will be the impact of transistor variability and other physics issues?

Chilton said that as transistor scaling progresses into FinFET technologies and beyond, the variability of device behavior becomes more prominent. There are several sources of device variability.

Random doping fluctuations (RDF) are a result of the statistical nature of the position and the discreteness of the electrical charge of the dopant atoms. Whereas in past technologies the effect of the dopant atoms could be treated as a continuum of charge, FinFETs are so small that the charge distribution of the dopant atoms becomes ‘lumpy’ and variable from one transistor to the next.

With the introduction of metal gates in the advanced CMOS processes, random work function fluctuations arising from the formation of finite-sized metal grains with different lattice orientations have also become important. In this effect, each metal grain in the gate, whose crystalline orientation is random, interacts with the underlying gate dielectric and silicon in a different way, with the consequence that the channel electrons no longer see a uniform gate potential.

The other key sources of variability are due to the random location of traps and the etching and lithography processes which produce slightly different dimensions in critical shapes such as fin width and gate length.

“The impact of these variability sources is evident in the output characteristics of FinFETs and circuits, and the systematic analysis of these effects has become a priority for technology development and IP design teams alike,” he added.

Agnisys makes design verification process extremely efficient!


Agnisys Inc. was established in 2007 in Massachusetts, USA, with a mission to deliver innovative automation to the semiconductor industry. The company offers affordable VLSI design and verification tools for SoCs, FPGAs and IPs that makes the design verification process extremely efficient.

Agnisys’ IDesignSpec is an award winning engineering tool that allows an IP, chip or system designer to create the register map specification once and automatically generate all possible views from it. Various outputs are possible, such as UVM, OVM, RALF, SystemRDL, IP-XACT etc. User defined outputs can be created using Tcl or XSLT scripts. IDesignSpec’s patented technology improves engineer’s productivity and design quality.

The IDesignSpec automates the creation of registers and sequences guaranteeing higher quality and consistent results across hardware and software teams. As your ASIC or FPGA design specification changes, IDesignSpec automatically adjusts your design and verification code, keeping the critical integration milestones of your design engineering projects synchronized.

Register verification and sequences consume up to 40 percent of project time or more when errors are the source of re-spins of SoC silicon or an increase in the number of FPGA builds. IDesignSpec family of products is available in various flavors such as IDSWord, IDSExcel, IDSOO and IDSBatch.

IDesignSpec more than a tool for creating register models!
Anupam Bakshi, founder, CEO and chairman, Agnisys, said: “IDesignSpec is more than a tool for creating register models. It is now a complete Executable Design Specification tool. The underlying theme is always to capture the specification in an executable form and generate as much code in the output as possible.”

The latest additions in the IDesignSpec are Constraints, Coverage, Interrupts, Sequences, Assertions, Multiple Bus Domains, Special Registers and Parameterization of outputs.

“IDesignSpec offers a simple and intuitive way to specify constraints. These constraints, specified by the user, are used to capture the design intent. This design intent is transformed into code for design, verification and software. Functional Coverage models can be automatically generated from the spec so that once again the intent is captured and converted into appropriate coverage models,” added Bakshi.

Using an add-on function of capturing Sequences, the user is now able to capture various programming sequences in the spec, which  are translated into C++ and UVM sequences, respectively. Further, the interrupt registers can now be identified by the user and appropriate RTL can be generated from the spec. Both edge sensitive and level interrupts can be handled and interrupts from various blocks can be stacked.

Assertions can be automatically generated from the high level constraint specification. These assertions can be created with the RTL or in the external files such that they can be optionally bound to the RTL. Unit level assertions are good for SoC level verification and debug, and help the user in identifying issues deep down in the simulation hierarchy.

The user can now identify one or more bus domains associated with Registers and Blocks, and generate appropriate code from it. Special Registers such as shadow registers and register aliasing is also automatically generated.

Finally all of the outputs such as RTL, UVM, etc., can be parameterized now, so that a single master specification can be used to create outputs that can be parameterized at the elaboration time.

How is IDesignSpec working as chip-level assertion-based verification?

Bakshi said: “It really isn’t an assertion tool! The only assertion that we automatically generate is from the constraints that the user specifies. The user does not need to specify the assertions. We transform the constraints into assertions.”
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