By Ron Wilson, Altera Corporation
How to evaluate the quality of semiconductor intellectual property (IP)? That sounds like a question that was settled years ago, at least for industry-standard interface IP. But increasingly today, system designers—especially those who develop their own ASICs or FPGA-based implementations—use supposedly standard IP in distinctly non-standard ways. We overclock physical-layer IP. We bypass protocol layers to reduce latency, or to implement new modes. We add functionality, such as security or virtualization. IP providers report that frequently an inquiry about an industry-standard interface turns out to involve customer-specific modifications.
This desire for change is reactivating the old question: how do you evaluate an IP offering? A whole infrastructure of proof has grown up around standards like PCI Express® (PCIe®), Gbps Ethernet (GbE), and the DDR DRAM interfaces. There are certifications and plugfests for IP in silicon, and testbenches for pre-silicon simulation. But if you know that you need modified IP, how do you evaluate a product—and its vendor? We asked system designers and IP developers for their views.
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