Okay, it's the holiday season and end of the year, so I'll
combine it all and make a wish list for the new year (as it relates to chip
design). Heck, it's the end of the decade - so why not make a wish list for the
A decade is a long time in our industry. This year, my
7-year-old asked Santa for a 4G phone (based on clever advertising by Sprint,
which obfuscates the fact that their "4G" is just WiMax and they currently only
offer modems, no phones yet). A decade ago, the 3G spec was still being
developed. The phones today are more powerful compute platforms than the PC I
had a decade ago. This has been driven by industrious designers and advances in
I remember a decade ago, the place & route software was
just getting the ability to perform optimizations beyond simple buffering and
sizing (thanks in large part to the emerging formal equivalence technology).
Signal integrity was the new buzzword. Power was not a concern in most designs.
And verification - which had just meant "simulation" for the previous decade-plus
- was beginning to see new technologies emerge to address more modern
challenges. Today we have well-established, metric-based verification
methodologies that employ many of the techniques that were emerging back then.
If I look at the way design is done today, there are a lot
of parallels to verification in 1999. The general methodology has been largely
unchanged for more than a decade. Yet the associated challenges are growing
exponentially. Look at the high-profile products that have missed the holiday
shopping season this year - that 4G phone, the Nook e-reader (which my wife wanted),
the 27-inch iMac, the Nokia N900, etc. This is costly! New technologies have
finally emerged in recent years - global
synthesis, low power design techniques, constraint management, usable physical
synthesis, automated ECO capabilities, and easy-to-deploy pre-RTL what-if
exploration to start your project in the right direction. Perhaps most
important has been the emergence of production-ready ESL synthesis. All of
these technologies are poised to help address the challenges that designers
So I'm feeling pretty fortunate. But I want more, because "Q1
delivery" does not help Santa during the holiday season. First we need our own schematics-to-RTL
jump. RTL was definitely an improvement, but it's still too close to being an
implementation of a concept. I want to see designers designing concepts and
verifying them in the system context before worrying about how to implement the
register-to-register logic. ESL synthesis can finally enable this jump from RTL
to actual concept design. The elves rejoice.
But that's not everything - we still need to figure out how
to apply all these new techniques in a coherent, repeatable manner. The
verification folks have hashed out methodologies that are driven by metrics
harvested from all the verification techniques run on the design. This helps
speed ramp-up of a project, but more importantly delivers more visibility to
the status and hence the agility to quickly make necessary adjustments. This is
what really speeds the path to closure, along with the confidence that using
this proven methodology will deliver a design that goes predictably through the
physical implementation. This is something that we as EDA vendors need to
deliver in order to enable that next jump in design capability, to enable true
System-on-Chip platform design. This way you can ensure that Santa can get his
hands on phones to go along with the network rollout.
The economics of the semiconductor industry have moved from
the old days of home-brewed ASICs to mass-production high-stakes parts. And so
much more of it now is consumer-driven, which means a more rigid delivery
schedule. So this requires adoption of more modern design techniques, more
rigid design methodology, and most importantly more analysis that links design
decisions to the economic effects on the overall project.
That's all I'm asking for. Is it too much? Will I just
receive coal again anyway?
Best holiday wishes to all of you, and I'm looking forward
to the new year!