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Users, Partners Outline Mixed-Signal Silicon Realization Challenges

Comments(0)Filed under: DAC, Analog, Mixed-Signal, mixed signal, broadcom, Bruggeman, EDA360, Silicon Realization, GlobalFoundries, TI, Rapid Bridge

A lunch panel at the recent Design Automation Conference provided an inside look at Silicon Realization challenges from a foundry, IP provider, EDA supplier, and EDA user perspective. The panel, moderated by Cadence CMO John Bruggeman, focused heavily on mixed-signal design issues and power management.

A reminder: As described in the EDA360 vision paper, Silicon Realization includes everything it takes to get a design into silicon, be it an SoC or an IP block. Since essentially all SoCs are mixed-signal, Silicon Realization encompasses both analog and digital design. As described in a recent Q&A interview, Silicon Realization is about 1) unified design intent, 2) raising the abstraction level, and 3) convergence of top-down and bottom-up methodologies.

Panelists were as follows, as shown from left to right in photo below:

  • John Bruggeman
  • Benny Malek-Khosravi, CTO, Rapid Bridge (IP provider)
  • Steve Jones, analog EDA methodology manager, Texas Instruments
  • Jacob Rael, senior manager, IC design, Broadcom
  • Subramani Kengen, vice president design solutions, GlobalFoundries
  • Sandy Mehndiratta, group director, Cadence


Following are some of the answers to questions asked by John.

Q: What challenges are you encountering at lower process nodes?

Kengen: The number of applications is really growing and is driving the product definition, and to an extent is driving the process node. The product life is getting shorter but development cycles are getting longer than the product life itself. I really see this as a major challenge.

Rael: Each time we move to a new node they expect the whole chip will shrink, resulting in lower cost and more functionality. But, while it's obvious the digital will scale, it's not obvious analog and RF will scale. For example, we have inductors, capacitors, and filters, and those don't scale. We've found that 65 nm is the best process to support RF and analog. Smaller technologies have smaller dimensions, but we don't get the high speeds. We have to re-architect our entire circuit to bring in more digital calibration and clock generation.

Malek-Khosravi: IP designers are faced with huge problems as people move to new process nodes, because of the granularity and the limitations of the devices we can use. Unless you capture the physical aspects of the design up front, the cycle between up-front design and physical implementation will turn into a vicious loop.

Mehndiratta: The impact on EDA is substantial [lower process nodes]. At advanced nodes, the interaction of a number of issues can cause failure, and many issues need to be verified. It's not just functional verification; it's electrical and physical verification. Power intent needs to be looked at from the system architectural level.

You can't have a siloed approach where design, verification and implementation are separate and you just throw it over the wall. There needs to be a communication of design intent and an ability to abstract the design behavior across different phases of the design.

Q: How do you balance time, cost, and quality as you go to lower process nodes?

Jones: First we have to define what quality is. Quality is sending the first sample to the customer, and having them be able to power up their system. From the analog/mixed-signal side, the way we establish quality is very similar to what's talked about in the digital world - you have to verify the device before you ship to the customer. Getting rid of every bug through very, very thorough verification testing is the key to quality.

It's also the key to reducing cost. The best way to reduce development cost is to not do respins.

Q: A study shows that 25% of the cost at 65 nm is IP qualification. How can you help design teams think more effectively about IP qualification?

Jones: We want to do IC design once, along with IP qualification. If you do a respin you have to do re-qualification. This really boils down to a way to start verification early. If you can start running a full device-level simulation before the analog designers release their designs, you are ahead. To help crunch the development cycle, we use behavioral modeling for analog.

Q: How do you qualify and verify IP for mixed-signal SoCs?

Real: We have to work with both [analog and digital] teams to make sure they verify everything properly and that functionality is what they expected. Doing straightforward simulation is not practical, because analog tends to be small and really fast, while digital tends to be big and slow. We get around this by using simple behavioral digital models. This allows us to verify connections and functionality. We have found a number of subtle bugs.

Q: How can EDA help with IP integration?

Mehndiratta: At Cadence, we approach it at two levels. We recently announced our Open Integration Platform strategy, where we are working with vendors like Rapid Bridge to enable the availability of integration-optimized IP. The other level is enabling IP creation for our customers.

Q: What are you doing to address power challenges?

Kengen: From the process point of view, there's a lot of work going on. From an enablement point of view, we're looking at multiple innovations. One involves design solutions for minimizing power. We are looking at design solutions that are, in part, connected to the process, such as channel length optimization. In the next couple of months we will announce power enablement solutions.

Mehndiratta: Power optimization is critical at every step. From an EDA perspective, we can provide a unified representation with a common power intent format. This not only lets you optimize power, it also enables power verification in a mixed-signal environment.

Jones: The most difficult thing about power is that the most common low-power technique is to shut down portions of the digital circuitry. You have power modes. If you're running full device simulation you have to implement [power] supply awareness. Digital simulators typically don't do that.

A Parting Comment

Benny Malek-Khosravi said something that caught my attention. "There's talk of boundaries between analog and digital, but those boundaries are made by us by looking at and categorizing the circuits. There's a huge amount of analog knowledge that nobody has implemented in the digital world, and vice versa." He went on to mention a closed-loop compensation approach that Rapid Bridge uses to minimize power in both analog and digital circuitry.

Have we created, through our terminology and innate desire to order and categorize everything, a more rigid boundary between "analog" and "digital" than there really needs to be?

Richard Goering



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