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Graham Bell
Graham Bell
Graham is VP of Marketing at Real Intent. He has over 20 years experience in the design automation industry. He has founded startups, brought Nassda to an IPO and previously was Sales and Marketing Director at Internet Business Systems, a web portal company. Graham has a Bachelor of Computer … More »

A Good Design Tool Needs a Great Beginning

 
July 3rd, 2012 by Graham Bell

The following blog entry was written by Rick Eram, Director of Field and Sales Operations at Real Intent

Designing an excellent EDA tool takes a great deal of understanding from several different viewpoints.  First the tool designers must understand the actual engineering problem they are trying to solve.  Second, they must understand the end-user design needs and satisfy those in the tool.  Third the results have to be meaningful and consistent with the user’s existing design flow and ideally do not make it harder for designs to be signed off by engineers and their managers.

Software developers spend years refining their products to meet market demands.  The first solution out of the box usually gets the need part right, but can miss on the meaningfulness of the results and presentation of information, as well as ease of use. For example, one of the RTL linting solutions in the marketplace started out as a generic checker over 10 years ago.  A decade later, many hours of unnecessary debugging time is lost every day the tool is invoked because of the overhead due to checking and waiving erroneous messages.  The reason for this misalignment of the customer needs lies solely on the way the tool was designed from the start.

In the late 90s the industry saw the rise of several design reuse and methodology manuals.  EDA companies started to codify such guidelines into software rules for their lint products, not realizing the ramification of such rules in the design environment.  The result was thousands of poor quality rules which could easily conflict with one another or have overlapping coverage.  Because the software infrastructure needed to support complex design was inefficient, the tool lacked the necessary performance to be an excellent design tool. As a result, users have suffered with a noisy tool for many years. This means that the number of messages generated by the tool overwhelms the useful messages attributed to actual design failure. This problem was exasperated when lint technology was expanded to cover areas such as Clock Domain Crossing (CDC), Test, Timing Constraints and Power.  The results of these decade-old tool lint tools are unnecessarily noisy debug reporting.  To cover up the problem, the codified rules were grouped into templates and groups which helped to minimize the noise. This approach provided some relief but the overlapping rules from various manuals can cause a large number of erroneous and useless violations.

In addition, these products do not properly align with the design flow resulting in the use of RTL lint at the end of the design process, only as an audit tool, not as an effective design tool.  An audit tool makes it harder for designs to be signed off by engineers and their managers since it is not used during the development phase.  Despite years of existence in the market place, this type of tool is not popular and unless enforced by management they are rarely used.

In contrast, Real Intent developed a next generation lint tool for lint purposes ONLY, not as a generic checker.  Usability factors such as noise, performance, report quality, use model, impact on design flow were examined carefully. The Ascent Lint tool and the rules were designed to capture issues consistent with the requirements at any given stage of a design, while ensuring no overlaps between rules to eliminate noise.  Alignment with the user environment means Ascent Lint is a real design tool employed during simulation and analysis of the design and not simply as an audit tool. The net result is 50X faster performance compared to the closest competing product, with orders of magnitude less noise and easy to understand debug reports.

It was interesting to see press releases and announcements at this year’s DAC about streamlined lint tools and qualified rule sets, and so on.  One company renamed their product line, repackaged the components, and even changed the company image while confirming that the entire product portfolio is based on a decade old linting product.  Real Intent in their product announcements at DAC, continued its focus on offering best-in-class performance.  Real Intent delivers EDA tool excellence with a new generation of products to detect issues efficiently and help designers work better and faster at the start of design.

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