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How Much Power Are You Leaving On The Table?

Comments(0)Filed under: Logic Design, RTL compiler, Jack Erickson, Multi-Supply Multi-Voltage, MSMV, Design ExplorerEverybody is looking to reduce their chip's power consumption these days. Often a lot of reduction is needed in order to fit in the desired power envelope. Until now, designers of chips for wireless applications formed the majority of the power management community. These days, it is applicable to all kinds of chips, both wireless and wired.

Shutting down functional blocks is a great technique to reduce power, there are many blocks that cannot be shut down long enough to deliver power savings that justifies the associated overhead of this technique.

One under-utilized technique is reducing supply voltage on domains that have performance margin. This can significantly reduce active power - and leakage as well - and does not require any additional functional verification. However it is difficult to figure out which domains can have their voltages reduced, and by how much, and still meet timing. There just isn't enough time to run all the experiments necessary to figure it out, especially if your synthesis methodology is bottom-up. This is why we developed Design Explorer (aka "DEX") in RTL Compiler. We're starting to see some results now:

USB chip

This design targets a 65nm multi-vt library. The default synthesis flow used a single 1.08v domain. By creating an extra domain and letting DEX explore both domains across 0.8v, 0.9v, and 1.08v (so, that's 32, or 9 exploration runs), we found that this design could meet timing with one of the domains at 1.08v and one at 0.8v. This resulted in a 51% reduction in active power and a 60% reduction in leakage, with a 1% area increase, and again, same performance. That's a pretty significant ROI.

Wired networking chip

This chip's performance target is aggressive and cannot leverage shutting down blocks. It targets a 45nm multi-vt library, and had been only using a single 1.08v domain. Partitioning the major functional blocks into power domains resulted in a total of 3 domains. Letting DEX explore across 4 libraries - 0.8v, 0.9v, 0.99v, and 1.08v - means that it explored 64 different scenarios in parallel. The scenario that best balanced performance with area with power savings was one in which one domain was at 1.08v, one at 0.9v, one at 0.99v, and one at 0.8v. This delivered an active power savings of 17%, a leakage power savings of 29%, at a cost of a 1% area increase. Timing was -10ps in this scenario, but that was deemed to be close enough that it could be closed in physical implementation.

Storage chip

Another high-performance 65nm chip, this one was already utilizing a multi-supply approach. However there were only 2 power domains, one at 1.1v and the other at 0.9v. This was a conservative approach to save some power while ensuring that performance would still be able to be met. For the DEX explorations, we carved out two additional power domains, and explored across 0.75v, 0.9v, and 1.1v. DEX explored across 81 different scenarios (4 domains, 3 voltages)! The scenario that delivered the desired balance of performance, power, and area had the 1.1v domain remaining at 1.1v, and the other three were able to meet timing at 0.75v. Area increased by 2% in this scenario, but active power decreased by 36%, and leakage decreased by 89%!

These are just some examples of the type of extensive automatic exploration that can be performed with DEX. You can see that the number of power domains in each case was still small, in order to minimize the physical implementation overhead. Yet the power savings achieved was still great. So how much power are you leaving on the table by not doing this type of exploration?


Jack Erickson

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