Flexible, standards-based IP key
By Michael Kaskowitz, General Manager, Intellectual Property Division, Mentor Graphics Corp., Wilsonville, Ore., EE Times
December 19, 2002 (10:12 a.m. EST)
With the arrival of platform-based systems-on-chip and the proliferation of embedded cores, designs are getting bigger and more complex. This leads to increasing mask costs, longer development time and a wider assortment of design tasks per chip. Hardware design is becoming more software-focused, increasing the ratio of software to hardware engineers. The software must be ported across multiple processors and digital signal processors in the SoC, and ported with each new generation of the design.
The emphasis is on change. Designs and design teams must be more flexible than in the past. Intellectual-property and design reuse are an important part of that equation. But not all IP is created equal. Of the three major types of successful IP, only standards-based intellectual property provides the required flexibility to be generally applicable in modern design flows.
Library IP, consisting of essential, low-level math functions, is largely dictated by the process technology in which the design will be implemented. Once the foundry and process have been selected, the only choice left is picking the vendor for the physical-library components. You may need a CPU or DSP in your SoC design, and those are important decisions. They should not, however, dictate the rest of the functionality you add to your design.
Changes to the CPU or DSP are not generally considered, due to their strong dependence on software tools-and new designs often carry legacy code from previous designs. Standards-based IP is not only flexible in the way it can be configured to your design but also in that it accommodates the necessary variations within the standards themselves. Because it is configurable, you can fit standards-based IP to any design.
Standards-based IP adds specific functionality like USB or Bluetooth to a design in an effective and efficient manner. That frees you to focus your specialized skills on the custom heart of the design that will m ake the design competitive. Yet, it's not only the quality of the IP but also the resources and reputation of the IP provider that are critical to making your work more effective and easier.
Preverification is essential. Only if standards-based IP is preverified can you be sure that it will deliver the reliability, compliance and portability you need to get your design out on schedule. Standards-based designs must adhere to constantly changing, complex and diverse standards. For example, if you are designing a wireless chip, you'll confront the multiple wireless standards and their variants. If the IP has not been tested for compliance, your design may fall flat on its face in the final hour, leaving you scrambling for answers.
The addition of standards-based IP to a design jeopardizes first-pass success unless the blocks have undergone rigorous testing and verification by the IP provider. The reuse of proven, preverified cores increases productivity, reduces verification cycles, cuts silic on respins and allows you to focus on your core competencies.
Compliance and flexibility are critical success factors. If the IP you use isn't compliant with leading industry standards, your product is at risk. Standards compliance ensures that the IP interoperates with other devices. Preverified, compliant standards-based IP establishes functionally correct operation, shortening the time-to-working silicon. You can rest assured that your product will work with other devices. This is the whole point of IP, after all. If it's not easy to implement, what's the point? If it's not easy to use and deploy, it doesn't help you meet your schedule.
Unfortunately, very little IP is truly verified before delivery. Several third-party IP suppliers are in the market, but not all IP cores have been preverified for quality or for specific applications, jeopardizing first-pass success. The only way to know whether your third-party IP is preverified is to go with an IP provider you can count on: one that guarantees that its IP has undergone a rigorous verification process.
No IP is an island. The IP you choose should be part of a complete, platform-based solution that facilitates integration and increases reliability. Platform-based design is a strategy that takes into account the hardware and software you have to deal with and all of the other components, buses and drivers that have to work
Your chosen provider should deliver a complete portfolio of high-quality, portable hardware (digital, analog and RF where required) and software IP that's proven to meet all the requirements of the given technology and to function correctly when put together.