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Archive for 2014

Executive Insight: On the Convergence of Design and Verification

Thursday, August 7th, 2014

This article was originally published on TechDesignForums and is reproduced here by permission.

Sometimes it’s useful to take an ongoing debate and flip it on its head. Recent discussion around the future of simulation has tended to concentrate on aspects best understood – and acted upon – by a verification engineer. Similarly, the debate surrounding hardware-software flow convergence has focused on differences between the two.

Pranav Ashar, CTO of Real Intent, has a good position from which to look across these silos. His company is seen as a verification specialist, particularly in areas such as lint, X-propagation and clock domain crossing. But talk to some of its users and you find they can be either design or verification engineers.

How Real Intent addresses some of today’s challenges – and how it got there – offer useful pointers on how to improve your own flow and meet emerging or increasingly complex tasks.

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Fundamentals of Clock Domain Crossing Verification: Part Four

Thursday, July 31st, 2014

Last time we discussed practical considerations for designing CDC interfaces.  In this posting, we look at the costs associated with debugging and sign-off verification.

Design setup cost

Design setup starts with importing the design. With the increasing complexity of SOCs, designs include RTL and netlist blocks in a Verilog and VHDL mixed-language environment. In addition, functional setup is required for good quality of verification. A typical SOC has multiple modes of operation characterized by clocking schemes, reset sequences and mode controls. Functional setup requires the design to be set up in functionally valid modes for verification, by proper identification of clocks, resets and mode select pins. Bad setup can lead to poor quality of verification results.

Given the management complexity for the multitude of design tasks, it is highly desirable that there be a large overlap between setup requirements for different flows. For example, design compilation can be accomplished by processing the existing simulation scripts. Also, there is a large overlap between the functional setup requirements for CDC and that for static timing analysis. Hence, STA setup, based upon Synopsys Design Constraints (SDCs), can be leveraged for cost-effective functional setup.

Design constraints are usually either requirements or properties in your design. You use constraints to ensure that your design meets its performance goals and pin assignment requirements. Traditionally these are timing constraints but can include power, synthesis, and clocking. (more…)

Fundamentals of Clock Domain Crossing Verification: Part Three

Thursday, July 24th, 2014

Last time we looked at design principles and the design of CDC interfaces.  In this posting, we will look at practical considerations for designing CDC interfaces.

Verifying CDC interfaces

A typical SOC is made up of a large number of CDC interfaces. From the discussion above, CDC verification can be accomplished by executing the following steps in order:

  • Identification of CDC signals.
  • Classification of CDC signals as control and data.
  • Hazard/ glitch robustness of control signals.
  • Verification of single signal transition (gray coding) of control signals.
  • Verification of control stability (pulse-width requirement).
  • Verification of MCP operation (stability) of data signals.

All verification processes are iterative and achieve design quality by iteratively identifying design errors, debugging and fixing errors and re-running verification until no more errors are detected.

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Fundamentals of Clock Domain Crossing Verification: Part Two

Thursday, July 17th, 2014

Last time we looked at how metastability is unavoidable and the nature of the clock domain crossing (CDC) problem.   This time we will look at design principles.

CDC design principles

Because metastability is unavoidable in CDC designs, the robust design of CDC interfaces is required to follow some strict design principles.

Metastability can be contained with “synchronizers” that prevent metastability effects from propagating into the design. Figure 9 shows the configuration of a double-flop synchronizer which minimizes the load on the metastable flop. The single fan-out protects against loss of correlation because the metastable signal does not fan out to multiple flops. The probability that metastability will last longer than time t is governed by the following equation:

Eqn1

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Fundamentals of Clock Domain Crossing Verification: Part One

Thursday, July 10th, 2014

The increase in SOC designs is leading to the extensive use of asynchronous clock domains. The clock-domain-crossing (CDC) interfaces are required to follow strict design principles for reliable operation. Also, verification of proper CDC design is not possible using standard simulation and static timing-analysis (STA) techniques. As a result, CDC-verification tools have become essential in design flows.

A good understanding of the CDC problem requires an understanding of metastability and the associated design challenge.

Metastability

When the input signal to a data latch changes within the setup-and-hold window around the transition of the latching clock, the latch output can become metastable at an intermediate voltage between logical zero and one. Figure 1 shows a simplified latch implementation. The metastable state is a very high-energy state as shown in Figure 2. Because of noise in the chip environment, this metastable voltage gets disturbed and eventually resolves to a logical value. The resolution time is dependent upon the load on the latch output and the gain through the feedback loop. It is impossible, however, to predict this logical value. Also, there is an inherent delay in the resolution of the metastable output as shown in the timing diagram of Figure 3. This logical and timing uncertainty introduces unreliable behavior in the design and, without proper protection, can cause it to fail in unpredictable ways.

 

Fig1
Figure 1. A simplified latch.

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Static Verification Leads to New Age of SoC Design

Thursday, July 3rd, 2014

SoC companies are coming to rely on RTL sign-off of many verification objectives as a means to achieve a sensible division of labor between their RTL design team and their system-level verification team. Given the sign-off expectation, the verification of those objectives at the RT level must absolutely be comprehensive.

Increasingly, sign-off at the RTL level can be accomplished using static-verification technologies. Static verification stands on two pillars: Deep Semantic Analysis and Formal Methods. With the judicious synthesis of these two, the need for dynamic analysis (a euphemism for simulation) gets pushed to the margins. To be sure, dynamic analysis continues to have a role, but is increasingly as a backstop rather than the main thrust of the verification flow. Even where simulation is used, static methods play an important role in improving its efficacy.

Deep Semantic Analysis is about understanding the purpose or role of RTL structures (logic, flip-flops, state machines, etc.) in a design in the context of the verification objective being addressed. This type of intelligence is at the core of everything that Real Intent does, to the extent that it is even ingrained into the company’s name. Much of sign-off happens based just on the deep semantic intelligence in Real Intent’s tools without the invocation of classical formal analysis.

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Reset Optimization Pays Big Dividends Before Simulation

Thursday, June 26th, 2014

This article was originally published on TechDesignForums and is reproduced here by permission.

Reset optimization is another one of those design issues that has leapt in complexity and importance as we have moved to ever more complex system-on-chips. Like clock domain crossing, it is one that we need to resolve to the greatest degree possible before entering simulation.

The traditional approach to resets might have been to route to every flop. Back in the day, you might have been done this even though it has always entailed a large overhead in routing. That would help avoid X ‘unknown’ states arising during simulation for every memory location that was not reinitialized at restart. It was a hedge against optimistic behavior by simulation that could hide bugs.

Our objectives today, though, include not only conserving routing resources but also capturing problems as we bring up RTL for simulation to avoid unfeasible run times there at both RTL and – worse still – the gate level.

There is then one other important factor for reset optimization: its close connection to power optimization.

Matching power and performance increasingly involves the use of retention cells. These retain the state of elements of the design even if appears to be powered off: in fact, to allow for a faster restart bring-up these must continue to consume static power even when the SoC is ‘at rest’. So, controlling the use of retention cells cuts power consumption and extends battery life. (more…)

SoC CDC Verification Needs a Smarter Hierarchical Approach

Thursday, June 19th, 2014

This article was originally published on TechDesignForums and is reproduced here by permission.

Thanks to the widespread reuse of intellectual property (IP) blocks and the difficulty of distributing a system-wide clock across an entire device, today’s system-on-chip (SoC) designs use a large number of clock domains that run asynchronously to each other. A design involving hundreds of millions of transistors can easily incorporate 50 or more clock domains and hundreds of thousands of signals that cross between them.

Although the use of smaller individual clock domains helps improve verification of subsystems apart from the context of the full SoC, the checks required to ensure that the full SoC meets its timing constraints have become increasingly time consuming.

Signals involved in clock domain crossing (CDC), for example where a flip-flip driven by one clock signal feeds data to a flop driven by a different clock signal raise the potential issue of metastability and data loss. Tools based on static verification technology exist to perform CDC checks and recommend the inclusion of more robust synchronizers or other changes to remove the risk of metastability and data loss.

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Photo Booth Blackmail at DAC in San Francisco!

Thursday, June 12th, 2014

Real Intent had a photo booth at its exhibit in San Francisco at the Design Automation Conference.  We thought it would be cool to give a photo souvenir of the 51st conference for anyone who strolled by and to celebrate the 2014 FIFA World Cup.  On hand to work the booth was Jeremy who helped everyone with funny props or choosing the right World Cup team jersey.

Between Jeremy and myself we were able to get some great photos.  Here are just a few for your viewing pleasure.   And at the bottom of the page, you can click on the link to see all the blackmail photos for your fellow conference attendees and exhibitors.   Enjoy!

Happy Patriot!

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Quick Reprise of DAC 2014

Thursday, June 5th, 2014

Thanks to everyone that came to the 2014 Design Automation Conference.  It was a successful show with maximum traffic on Tuesday afternoon.  At the Real Intent booth we were giving away Roses (yes they were real!) and had a photo booth as well.   Visitors could dress up in world-cup soccer jerseys and hoist the World Cup 2014 Trophy.

IMG_0316 (more…)

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