Get To Know The Gate-Level Power Aware Simulation

Using Liberty libraries to accumulate cell-level attributes and power down functions.


The post-synthesis gate-level netlist (GL-netlist) based PA simulation input requirements are mostly the same as RTL simulation. However, the design under verification here is the GL-netlist from synthesis, so logic gates from standard, MV and Macro cell Liberty libraries are already inserted or instantiated in the design. Hence power aware simulation (PA-SIM) at post-synthesis also requires Liberty libraries as input in order to accumulate different cell-level attributes and power down functions. The tool utilizes these attributes and functionalities of Liberty for the following:

Different Liberty Attributes Required at GL-Netlist PA-SIM

  • Identify a cell,
  • Conduct power aware simulation based on the cell identification along with UPF specification,
  • Apply appropriate corruption semantics accordingly.

One significant aspect of PA-SIM at the GL-netlist is that all cell instances are interpreted as containing drivers because these cells are usually leaf level cells or they are an instance that has no descendants. As a result, buffer cell instances in a GL-netlist will cause corruption when powered down. This is in contradiction to RTL Verilog ‘buf’ primitives that do not represent drivers and therefore out of scope from corruption by PA-SIM when powered down (at RTL). Just as reminder, the following list summarizes the rules for finding drivers at RTL:

Sample Rules for Finding Drivers at RTL

  • Any statements involving arithmetic or logical operations or conditional execution are interpreted as representing drivers, and Questa PA-SIM applies corruption when powered down.
  • Unconditional assignments and Verilog ‘buf’ primitives do not represent drivers and therefore do not cause corruption when powered down, but they do not isolate and may propagate corrupted signals from upstream drivers.

During GL-netlist power aware simulation, corruption will occur on the output ports and sequential logic of any detected gate-level cells. In addition, power aware simulation automatically treats a module as a gate-level cell if the module contains the `celldefine attribute or the `specify blocks in HDL code. Even these cells are not defined in the Liberty syntax; the standard processing of driver-based corruption is still applied to these cells, similar to that for RTL cell designs.

UPF 1801-2013 or UPF 2.1 LRM provides a dominant mechanism to devise a driver-based corruption on any HDL cell, even when there is no `celldefine or `specify block, through the set_design_attribute [-attribute {name value}]* command. PA-SIM treats all module, entity, or design elements as a gate-level or leaf cell when the following syntax is applied on them.

Example 1 — Leaf-level or Gate-level Cell Treatment of Design for Driver-Based Corruption

Define through UPF File:
set_design_attributes models FIFO –attribute {UPF_is_leaf_cell TRUE}

Define through HDL Annotation:
SystemVerilog or Verilog Attribute Specification:
(* UPF_is_leaf_cell=“TRUE” *) module FIFO (<port list>);

VHDL Attribute Specification:
attribute UPF_is_leaf_cell : STD.Standard.String;
attribute UPF_is_leaf_cell of FIFO : entity is “TRUE”;

Though the latest UPF 1801-2015 or UPF 3.0 LRM revised the syntax for leaf-level or gate-level cell definition to enable driver-based corruption through UPF_is_hard_macro instead of UPF_is_leaf_cell attributes, the semantics and use model remain identical.

During GL-netlist power aware simulation, apart from detecting the standard and Macro cells and applying corruption accordingly, the simulator is also required to automatically identify special power management or MV cells, like ISO, LS, RFF, etc. from the design. The detection of MV cells is primarily done through the cell level attributes available in corresponding Liberty libraries and are usually cross-compared with the corresponding definition of strategies in UPF. Recalling the syntax and example of ISO, LS, and RFF from UPF LRM, and from the fact that a GL-netlist contains at least ISO, LS, and RFF through synthesis, hence most of these cells are already specified either through following UPF commands and options or through tool auto detection processes.

Example 2 — ISO, LS, RFF Automatic Detection in GL-netlist Simulation through UPF Command

ISO cells:
set_isolation strategy_name [-instance {{instance_name port_name}*}]
Where the <instance_name> is a technology leaf-cell instance and the <port_name> of the logic port that it isolates.

LS cells:
set_level_shifter strategy_name –instance {{instance_name port_name}*}
Similarly here the <instance_name> is a technology library leaf-cell instance and the <port_name> of the logic port that it level-shifts.

RFF cells:
set_retention retention_name –instance {{instance_name[signal_name]}*}
Here in this case as well the <instance_name> is a technology library leaf-cell instance and the optional <signal_name> is the HDL signal that controls retention. If this instance has any unconnected supply ports or save and restore control ports, then these ports need to have identifying attributes in the cell model, and the ports shall be connected in accordance with this set_retention command.

In the GL-netlist PA simulation, the tool’s auto detection process of MV cells actually refers to the cells that are not specified through the -instance but through Liberty or other attributes. Hence for the rest of the cells that are not specified in the UPF file, PA-SIM during GL-netlist simulation automatically detects the right UPF strategy to which they belong and treats them in a similar way to cells of that strategy specified with an -instance argument. Questa PA-SIM detects power management cells based on one of the following information:

Liberty Cell-Level Attributes

  • is_isolation_cell
  • is_level_shifter
  • retention_cell

Library Cell Name from UPF Commands

  • map_isolation_cell isolation_name [-lib_cells lib_cells_list]
  • map_level_shifter_cell level_shifter_strategy [-lib_cells list]
  • map_retention_cell retention_name_list [-lib_cells lib_cell_list]
  • use_interface_cell –strategy list_of_isolation_level_shifter_strategies [–lib_cells lib_cell_list]

Note that map_isolation_cell and map_level_shifter_cell are deprecated from UPF LRM 3.0 with use_interface_cell command. Unlike map_isolation_cell and map_level_shifter_cell, the use_interface_cell can be used to manually map any isolation (ISO), level-shifter (LS), or combined isolation level-shifter (ELS) cells.

UPF name_format Command for Defining Names of Implicit Objects

  • [-isolation_prefix string]
  • [-isolation_suffix string]
  • [-level_shift_prefix string]
  • [-level_shift_suffix string]

Synthesis Pragmas

  • isolation_upf
  • retention_upf

Although the PA GL-netlist simulation does not have any exceptions from the fundamental concept of PA-SIM at the RTL, the tool procedure requires additional commands to process the information discussed and listed above.

Tool Procedures for Liberty Processing at GL-netlist:

Compile: No Change
Optimize: vopt- requires to include either “vopt-pa_libertyfiles” or “vopt -pa_dumplibertydb”
Simulate: No Change

The following list explains the Liberty library referencing methods for GL-netlist PA-SIM:

Liberty Referencing in PA-SIM at GL-netlist:

Specifies the Liberty files to read. It is also possible to specify multiple files by separating file names with a comma.
e.g. vopt –pa_libertyfiles=a.lib,b.lib

Specifies the name of the Liberty attribute library database for future reference.
e.g. vopt -pa_dumplibertydb=lib_datafile

Apart from detecting standard, Macro and MV cells, the PA-SIM also is required to virtually infer missing MV cells in the design. In general, the virtual inferring process is limited to RTL where physical MV cells are not instantiated yet. Inferring may also be required at Mixed-RTL, where some of the MV cells are still missing. Hence during GL-netlist such virtual inferring is redundant. However, PA-SIM provides user controllability through tool procedures where it is possible to control the inference.

Tool Procedures for Controlling Virtual Inferring of MV Cells:

Compile: No change
Optimize: -vopt requires to add one of the following to disable auto inference.
“vopt -pa_disable=insertiso”- Disable ISO cell insertion
“vopt -pa_disable=insertls” – Disable LS cell insertion
“vopt-pa_disable=insertret” – Disable RFF cell insertion
Simulate: No Change

Using one of the above, based on requirements, will allow the tool not to infer the appropriate cells virtually at any design abstraction level. But since physical MV cells are already inserted in post-synthesis GL-netlist designs, hence using a tool procedure during optimization as follows will instruct the tool to disable all the three virtual insertions for ISO, LS, and RFF at once.

Required Tool Procedure for GL-netlist PA-SIM:

Optimize: vopt- requires to include “vopt -pa_gls”

The PA-SIM with GL-netlist as well as Mixed RTL mechanisms can be summarized as follows:

Summarization of PA-SIM Mechanism for GL-netlist and Mixed-RTL Design

  • Detect standard and Macro cells in the netlist and perform corruption based on the driver, UPF strategies, or power down functionalities from Liberty.
  • Detect MV cells in the netlist and match them with corresponding UPF strategies at that point in the design.
  • Virtually infer MV cells if missing in the netlist based on UPF strategies.
  • Conduct automated power aware sequence checks and testbench based simulation similar to RTL PA-SIM.

Once the cell detection or inferring process is completed as discussed above, the tool conducts power aware simulation on the GL-netlist similar to the RTL design. Although the Liberty file is required as additional input in the GL-netlist, it is recommended to use the same testbench from the RTL stage to confirm verification consistency.