UltraSoC: Debug IP

U.K. startup aims to simplify development, performance monitoring and debugging of complex SoCs.

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The background noise across the engineering community is rising with the growing complexity of SoCs. While the big news several years ago was the introduction of chips with 1 billion transistors, that’s no longer making headlines. There are now well over 1 billion transistors in advanced SoCs and more than 100 IP blocks. Even abstractions are beginning to break down (see related story).

Enter UltraSoC, an IP startup that provides IP for inside the chip. By hard-wiring in IP that understand various processes on an SoC, and scattering these blocks around the chip, company executives say they can hone in on problems faster than existing tools.

“You can run the chip at full speed and still have awareness of what’s going on,” said Rupert Baines, UltraSoC’s CEO. “It can tell you this is the trigger for a problem, this is what the software is doing, what the hardware is doing, and pull it out of tens of billions of cycles and terabytes of data. It might be 100 bytes that are causing the problem.”

Gajinder Panesar, the company’s CTO, said the real breakthrough is the ability to observe signals across a complex SoC at wire speed. “It’s protocol-aware, so it understands transactions and responses,” he said. “The bus is independent of the system, too, so events that are captured are transported across this bus and routed to on-chip or off-chip memory for post processing.”

Baines noted that what differentiates UltraSoC’s approach from others is that it was designed for different modes of operation—wake, sleep, different clock domains, timing alignment, so the IP can correlate the cycle on one clock with another.

“This is really important for high-end, safety-critical devices,” said Baines. “If you can identify problems up front, you can save billions of dollars in lawsuits.”

UltraSoC isn’t the first company to come up with this idea, or in-circuit analysis and debug. Other IP companies such as Tensilica, CEVA and ARM keep track of changes in their IP. Baines said the difference is that UltraSoC’s IP works across other vendors’ IP, as well. “It’s regression-consistent. You get consistent debug, the same visibility and the same metrics, no matter whose IP you’re looking at.”

UltraSoC was started in 2009. It came out of stealth mode at DAC. The company is funded by Octopus Investments, the South East Seed Fund, the Iceni Seedcorn Fund, the U.K. Technology Strategy Board, and the European Regional Development Fund.