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Peggy Aycinena
Peggy Aycinena
Peggy Aycinena is a freelance journalist and Editor of EDA Confidential at She can be reached at peggy at aycinena dot com.

Dassault’s Pinpoint: Qualcomm’s New Sheriff in Town

November 14th, 2013 by Peggy Aycinena

Dassault Systemes hosted a 2-day customer confab in Las Vegas this week, with Qualcomm featured in the High Tech breakout session on November 13th.

Dwight Galbi, Principle/Manager in Qualcomm’s Physical Design unit, described his group’s success in using Dassault’s Pinpoint decision support system [acquired from Tuscany Design Automation in late 2012] to coordinate their recent DSP design efforts. Galbi’s endorsement was so enthusiastic, it’s clear that when it comes to design, Pinpoint is Qualcomm’s new sheriff in town.

Noting that it’s tough to put together a DSP when the team includes both power and signal integrity experts, logic designers and architects – and the design includes a bunch of “disjointed pieces” of IP all mixed together – Galbi said Qualcomm had been using its own internally developed solution to coordinate all of this, but the Pinpoint dashboard outperformed the in-house tool in at least three key areas.

“First,” he said, “Pinpoint’s integrated web-based dashboard provided coverage of all aspects of the design including synthesis, place-and-route, timing signoff, power and signal integrity. Qualcomm’s [internally developed] dashboard could deal with some of these processes, but not all.

“Second, we liked Pinpoint’s graphical analysis capability for various metrics, with the quick transitions from high-level to a detailed view, which allowed our designers to spot outliers quickly and then probe down into the details.

“Third, Pinpoint provided a linking of reports to the physical database, which meant layout-based analysis could be done without having to learn the layout tools.”

Galbi acknowledged that Qualcomm could have enhanced their internal solution to include Pinpoint’s features, “but that would have required significant resources for full integration of the tools. Qualcomm is a design company, not a CAD company, and the commercial solution from Dassault provided benefits that would have been hard to develop internally and maintain.”

To illustrate the effectiveness of tool, Galbi pulled up a screen shot of the Pinpoint dashboard with a high-level project overview. Tools listed there included Design Compiler, IC Compiler, Talus and PrimeTime. Galbi said this clear indication of the design flow made it easy for team members to know what was going on at any particular moment across the project.

“And” he said, “Pinpoint provides some very good interactive metric-tracking plots that help identify glitches in the design for further investigation, and also quickly identify the area in the design where the glitch is coming from. You can click on the glitch in the image and produce a detailed report.

“The beauty of Pinpoint is that with that single click, you see a graphical representation of the path, with the green-dot to red-dot path indicating where you need to go [to address the glitch]. It’s as easy to use as Google maps as the tool zooms down to a single instance, which allows you to diagnose the particular problem. Then you can zoom all the way back out and map all of the failing paths and compare them to your layout.

“Or you can do a filtered summary of the details of the paths, filtering out the particular ones you want to look at. Pinpoint gives you a summary of the details with metrics for each path. When you have architects and designers all looking at this same level of detail, they can sort out the different problems together and quickly find the bottlenecks in the design.”

Galbi’s enthusiasm increased: “But the true power of Pinpoint comes from the layout-based overlays. You can pull down the highlight menu and put in a wild card for any level of hierarchy. For instance, you can highlight several different blocks and see the critical paths at the critical corners. Based on that feedback, if you might group together a particular set of logic to help minimize the critical paths.

“Or perhaps you use the IR drop metric overlay on the layout. In Pinpoint, you can see the IR drop associated with each instance in the layout. And how do you deal with timing? You set a budget and meet that budget. Pinpoint allows you to look at a critical timing path and see if it’s going through a particularly problematic hot spot.

“So again, using the global map function and zooming in, you can see the color coding of a particular instance and the associated hot spots. An IR drop map alone, or a timing map alone, does not provide that information. Only by looking at this data in parallel do you see how to solve the problem. Pinpoint allows you to do that.

“And once you’ve done all this, Pinpoint has an easy communication tool that allows you to send links to the appropriate team members, so they can also explore the issue and follow the problem as you have done.”

Galbi ended with suggestions for further enhancements of Pinpoint: Additional overlays for congestion, dynamic power, and color-coded hierarchy indicators. Enhanced graphical capabilities to control axis values for the metrics being plotted. Additional metric tracking for transition violations. And improved customized metrics for better sorting of critical paths – the number of buffers and inverters, the number of logic gates, and the number of RC delays over a given threshold.

These desired enhancements notwithstanding, it was clear from his talk that Galbi et al at Qualcomm have found in Dassault’s Pinpoint an efficient and dependable way to coordinate DSP development.

Indeed, there’s a new sheriff in town keeping all of the “disjointed pieces” in line, the team and the IP that need to work together for the sake of quality design.


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