Road Construction Ahead

The value isn’t in the concrete, it’s the ability to connect different parts in a meaningful way.

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A long-running joke in Canada is there are only two seasons—winter and road repair.

Dating back from the days of ancient times, roads have united empires. In a more figurative sense, they have made the best corporations better than their competitors. And on a conceptual level, they have linked together theories and concepts that previously had functioned in separate worlds.

In SoC design, we are at a point where we need more roads. The link between high-level models and abstractions and RTL-based hand-written code or hand-crafted test benches are sketchy, at best. At worst, there are no links at all. Models are created, abstractions are developed, and all too often they are completely ignored. It’s not that there isn’t value in this stuff—it’s that most people can’t connect the dots.

Unfortunately, semiconductor design cannot progress without them. At advanced nodes, designs are too complex to do everything by hand and far too costly. Yet without the roads between all the pieces, there also is too much mistrust and “black-box” uncertainty for many engineers to accept them. The result is chip design costs continue to skyrocket and the number of designs that can be justified at advanced nodes continues to shrink.

The irony is that while there is an enormous amount of profit to be gained once these connections are built, there is little financial incentive to dig in and create them. Perhaps it’s time for tools vendors and standards bodies to look at the big picture and build some new roads that can help manage complexity and significantly drive down costs.

The real value of a road is its ability to connect together lots of pieces, not just those with the fastest and most expensive vehicles.

–Ed Sperling