IP-XACT Becoming More Useful

Extensions to standard, and update of spec likely to improve adoption and utilization of standardized IP metadata approach.

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Accellera created analog/mixed signal extensions to the IEEE IP-XACT standard, and the standards group will recommend an update to the overall standard later this year to make it more useful for IP integration.

IP-XACT has been considered a great idea since its introduction in 2009 because it allows IP makers to add metadata to their IP—information needed to integrate it into complex designs. But while interest in IP-XACT has been growing steadily—there were 8,083 downloads as of July, compared with 1,495 downloads in 2010—the usefulness of the standard has been limited.

There are several reasons for that. First, while IP-XACT improves integration across an entire SoC flow, not everyone involved in that flow sees the same level of benefits. Second, the learning curve is steep, and getting buy-in from engineers requires them to understand the overall benefit. That means a top-down and bottom-up commitment across engineering organizations. And third, some vendors’ metadata is far more complete than the metdata provided by others, making the value inconsistent depending upon whose IP you are trying to integrate.

“For NXP, if we by IP we like to have an IP description because it’s beneficial to the flow and integration,” said Erwin de Kock, principal engineer at NXP and chair of the Accellera extensions working group. “But one of the problems with adoption of IP-XACT is the metadata provided by IP vendors is not consistent. So what happens is a lot of companies use tooling to generate that description of IP. They’re not relying on the IP-XACT description. They generate it themselves.”

More consistency in the metadata is one solution to that, and Accellera later this year will be making a recommendation to IEEE to revamp the standard. But in the meantime, the group also is working to make the current standard more useful. The latest addition includes vendor extensions for analog and mixed signal, which can be used with the current or future standard. Given the amount of analog IP that is being used in designs these days—with much more on the way as the Internet of Things takes root—having a consistent way to integrate mixed signal IP can be a huge time saver.

“Analog engineers are very different from digital engineers, but you need both to work on a design,” said de Kock. “At the very least, this helps communication between the groups.”

The IEEE standard is technically known as IEEE 1685 2009, or the Standard Structure for Packaging, Integrating and Reusing IP within Tool Flows. The AMS vendor extensions proposed by Accellera expand that standard to support Verilog-AMS, SystemC AMS, the Common Power Format and the Unified Power Format.
An in-depth tutorial on the subject is available here.