Experts At The Table: Nice To Have Vs. Need To Have

Last of three parts: Educating the masses; who gets it and who won’t be around; the opportunity in higher levels of abstraction.

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Low-Power Engineering sat down to discuss what’s essential and what isn’t in EDA with Brani Buric, executive vice president at Virage Logic; Kalar Rajendiran, senior director of marketing at eSilicon; Mike Gianfagna, vice president of marketing at Atrenta, and Oz Levia, vice president of marketing and business development at Springsoft. What follows are excerpts of that conversation.

LPE: How do complexity and all the different levels of the flow affect signoff?
Buric: Signoff is necessary at every level. Signoff at the DRC level and the DFM level and the gate level will stay forever. However, what’s different is that if you don’t sign off at a high enough level you cannot get to the next gate.
Gianfagna: It used to be that you could leave it to the end and clean it up. You used to be able to leave OPC (optical proximity correction) to the end and fix the litho hot spots. You can’t do that anymore. There are too many hotspots. The tool will find them all but you can’t fix them all. That’s an opportunity for EDA to add more value further upstream so you don’t have to find all the problems at the back end. There are tons of examples like that with power, test, area and routing congestion where you have got to start earlier or you get crunched in the funnel at the back end.

LPE: Engineers have been postponing using power islands and clock gating as long as possible. They seem to have run out of options, even at even mainstream process nodes. Do they understand the difference of what’s needed vs. what’s not?
Levia: There are definitely companies that know what they need and which are very good at educating their suppliers. They’re very good partners for us. If you work with them, they have a very clear road map about what they’re going to do and they are very articulate in communicating what they’re going to need, when they’re going to need it and why. Sometimes they can even tell you how much they’ll need. But unfortunately there are not many companies in this category. More fall into the ‘need to be evangelized to’ category. ‘Let me tell you why you’re going to need power islands.’ Or, ‘Let me tell you why verification is different with power islands.’ So there are two distinct camps.
Rajendiran: The one thing that has changed from a market application perspective is more and more people are buying consumer parts. More people are buying a phone. If you’re a businessperson, you’re going to be using it equally for e-mail and phone. If you’re a teenager you’re going to be using it for texting. Some of them are so good they can text without even seeing a keyboard. So depending upon who it is, power consumption is going to be driven by the application. It’s not so much how much power you can put in, it’s now driven by the usage model. That’s a big change from 10 years ago when you worried about a processor that was 50% faster or one that consumed 20% less power. Those were the two slides you took to a VC to get funded. Now it’s usage. Even if you’re looking at infrastructure, it’s the green initiatives that are driving it. Intel changed five years ago when they went to multicore and power conservation. Bigger companies do a better job figuring this out and marketing it. Smaller companies are still struggling with it.
Gianfagna: Natural selection will weed out those companies.
Rajendiran: Yes, and it’s already happening.
Buric: There are a few customers—a minority—who understand what it takes. What we’re seeing as an alternative is coming from companies like TSMC with a reference flow. With the reference flow is a list of the tools needed to get you through the reference flow, which helps their business.

LPE: So they give the choice to their customers?
Buric: They’re not even choosing. They’re working with a few leading customers to learn what they need and then they have to decide whether customers can afford it or not.

LPE: Is GlobalFoundries doing that, as well?
Buric: Not yet but they will catch up. It’s a must. You cannot explain to most companies what they will need.
Gianfagna: There are a handful of customers who know what they need and drive the strategy. We all kind of work with the same customers. What’s different is the ‘have nots’ at least know what questions to ask and are looking at outsourcing more. They’re looking to understand the process better. It’s improving. The need to work differently is becoming a competitive advantage. There are some who don’t get it. You won’t see them in a year or two. That’s the opportunity for EDA. There’s a better-educated consumer base for what will bite them. You don’t think about some of this stuff at the gate level. You think about it way earlier when you have an architecture in mind, or even before. What processor will you use? What power domains? What throughput? These are high-level decisions, and it takes tools and IP. That’s the opportunity for us.