21st Century Digital Design Tools

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Most chips today are designed with 20th century CAD tools. These tools, and the abstractions they are based on, were originally intended to handle designs of millions of gates or less. They are not up to the task of handling today's billion-gate designs. The result is months of delay and considerable labor from final RTL to tapeout. Surprises in timing closure, global congestion, and power consumption are common. Even taking an existing design to a new process node is a time-consuming and laborious process.

Twenty-first century CAD tools should be based on higher-level abstractions to enable billion-gate chips to go from final RTL to tapeout in days, not months. Key to attaining this increase in productivity is raising the level of design and using simple, standard interfaces. Designs should be composed from high-level modules – processors, MODEMs, CODECs, memory subsystems, and I/O subsystems – rather than gates and flip-flops. Each module, which we expect to contain 100 thousand to 10 million gates, is easily laid out by today’s tools, is placed as a unit, and communicates over a NoC via a standard interface. Restricting modules to standard sizes and aspect ratios further simplifies physical design. We expect even a large chip to contain at most a few thousand such modules and expect the physical design and chip-assembly to take a few days with minimal labor after completion of the module-level design.


Chris Malachosky (NVIDIA)

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